Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Looking for a needle in a haystack

needle and button in Midtown NYC Garment district
Needle & button in Midtown Manhattan
If you're in New York City, you'll find this enormous (huge) needle and button leaning against an information booth in Midtown Manhattan. I walk by this sculpture in the city's Garment district everyday and have often thought of the expression "like looking for a needle in a haystack." (Yes, I do think of idioms now and then.) A haystack is a pile of cut grass that is often used to feed horses. You can imagine how hard it would be to find a needle in a stack of hay although, of course, not this one.

Understandably, we use this expression as a metaphor to talk about how difficult it would be to find something. For example, if you're looking for someone in the middle of Time Square on New Year's Eve, when the square is packed with hundreds of thousands of people, you can say, "We probably won't be able to find him; that's like looking for a needle in a haystack." Similarly, if you dropped your ring in the sand at the beach, it would probably be close to impossible to recover the ring, and you can say, "Looking for that ring is like looking for a needle in a haystack, so we might as well forget it."

So, can you think of a situation in the past when you could have used this expression? Perhaps you had to look for an old friend online who has a common name or perhaps you left a book on a shelf in a huge library, but you're not sure where you left it. In these two situations, searching for the book or your friend would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Alright, folks. Thanks for checking out this small lesson. If you haven't yet, please join us on Facebook, and follow me, Joe, on Twitter @joeyu2nd for more quick, small English lessons. Catch you later!

Friday, May 18, 2012

off the beaten path

I took this photo from an ad by Aruba (the country) on the subway. The ad LURES (invite; entice) subway riders to the island's clear Caribbean waters and white sand. I wonder how many COMMUTERS (people traveling from home to work/school) actually booked tickets to Aruba after seeing this ad. I remember wanting to go, myself, as I STARED (look at for a long time) at the ad in my winter coat in the middle of January. Apparently, flamingo sightings are likely when you WANDER (roam; walk) around the island and even when you go somewhere OFF THE BEATEN PATH (away from busy, touristy areas). 

Have you been somewhere warm, relaxing, and OFF THE BEATEN PATH lately? We'd like to hear from you and even CHECK OUT (see; examine) your photos. You can tell us about it here at the small blog, on the small guide site page on Facebook, or on my page on Twitter.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

the past perfect progressive

the past perfect progressive

First, be sure to review our small lesson on the past perfect. Once you understand how to use the past perfect, the past perfect progressive shouldn't be too difficult. Like the past perfect, the past perfect progressive occurs before the past tense. The progressive or "ing" form means that we're focusing on an activity that is happening until a point in the past. This activity may continue or it may stop at this specified point in the past. 

The structure of the past perfect progressive is had + been + past participle. For example, the past perfect progressive of eat is had been eating, and the past perfect progressive of fly is had been flying. In addition, because the past perfect progressive conveys an activity that occurred to a point in the past, it usually includes for or since or some way of showing the duration of this activity.

Here are some examples:
1. We had been driving for 5 hours when we got pulled over (stopped) by the cop.
2. The kids were not hungry at dinner because they had been eating sweets since two o'clock this afternoon.
3. They had been chatting for hours when the lights suddenly went out.
4. Sue wanted to take a walk because she'd been studying all day.
5. Jack was thrilled to finally get his car fixed. He'd been taking the bus since last Friday when the battery died and the garage found other things wrong with it.

Alright, folks. I hope that makes the past perfect progressive clear for you. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know here, on Facebook, on Twitter, or by email:

If you haven't already, follow me on Twitter @joeyu2nd, and be a fan of the small guide site on Facebook for more quick, small English lessons. Catch you later.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

pun: "to the core"

Here's the second photo that I took from a poster at Whole Foods Market. As in the first one, we're sure the PUN (play on words) is totally intended. On this one, the pun is in the phrase "to the core"; it has a couple of meanings.

1. The core of an apple or any object is its center. For an apple, it's where the seeds are.

2. "A value to the core" is another way of saying, "a true or genuine value."

"Our organic apples. A value to the core."

Alright, folks. Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions or comments. You can do it here, on Facebook, or email me at

If you haven't yet, you should follow me on Twitter @joeyu2nd and LIKE the small guide site on Facebook for more quick, small English lessons.

pun: over easy

Here's one of two photos I took at Whole Foods with clever PUNS (play on words). On this poster, "over easy" has a couple of meanings. 

1. Eggs cooked "over easy" is a fried egg flipped over gently and served with the YOLK (the yellow part) still RUNNY (liquid). 

2. "A price that goes over easy" is another way of saying, "A price that is not a problem."

"Cage-free eggs. With a price that goes over easy."

When we unintentionally say a pun, we usually say, "No pun intended." However, since this is a promotional poster, I think the pun is totally intended.

Any questions or comments? Do it below, on Facebook, or send me an email at Also, you can follow me on Twitter @joeyu2nd for more quick, small English lessons, and be a fan of the small guide site on Facebook.

Take care, and I hope to hear from you!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Made from scratch

"Made from scratch like grandma's. At prices she remembers."

MADE FROM SCRATCH - prepared from basic ingredients (flour, water, sugar, ...)

I found this cool idiom on a poster at Whole Foods. I go there QUITE A BIT (often) to get some work done, take advantage of their free wifi, and have some of their prepared dishes. They're A BIT PRICEY (a little expensive); you're definitely paying for some quality fresh ingredients that are MADE FROM SCRATCH, but they're quite TASTY (delicious). With my busy schedule, it's tough to find time to MAKE anything FROM SCRATCH, so I don't mind paying for it NOW AND THEN (sometimes). What about you? Can you MAKE anything FROM SCRATCH?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Survey: next lesson on verb tenses

We had a nice TURNOUT (number of visitors) for my last lesson on the past perfect tense, so I thought of preparing another small lesson on verb tenses. For my students, the future perfect and the future perfect progressive tenses can also be challenging, so I'm considering doing one of these next. 

What about you? Which verb tense is difficult for you to MASTER (completely understand & be very good at)? I just put up a survey at our page on Facebook, where you can vote and even add a verb tense that is not already listed. Drop by, and while you're there, LIKE us.

Reminder: I'm also on Twitter @joeyu2nd. I hope to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

the past perfect tense

The past perfect can be challenging for some English learners. It can be tough to figure out exactly when or how to use it. But it's really not very difficult. Basically, the past perfect tense occurs before the past tense and is usually used when you tell a story that happened in the past. When you're telling a story, the past tense is usually the base tense or the tense where the story occurs, and everything that happens before that is told using the past perfect.

As always, we should master its structure. The past perfect is formed with had + past participle. For example, the past perfect of fly is had flown; the past perfect of go is had gone. Mastering the structure of the past perfect is the first and important step in learning how to use it.

Once you've mastered the structure of this tense, you can start using it when you're talking about the past. Remember, anything that happened before the past tense should be told in the past perfect.

Here are some examples:
1. I had already eaten when I got to the party. ("Had eaten" happened before "got".)
2. They wanted to watch the new Will Smith comedy, but their friend had just watched it the day before. ("Had watched" happened before "wanted".)
3. He almost had a heart attack when he realized he had forgotten his passport at home.
4. His family traveled a lot. By the time he was 12, he had been to most of Europe and Asia.
5. He had gone to the doctor before he went to the post office.

When we use the past perfect, we make it easy for people to understand our stories because we're making the order of events clear. Our listeners can easily tell what happened first and what happened next. Sometimes, however, you can simply use the past tense instead of the past perfect if it's already clear which event happened first and which event happened next. We can do this when the words "before" or "after" are in the sentence.

Sentence number 5 above is an example. Because it has the word "before", it's already clear that the person went to the doctor first and then he went to the post office. Because of this we can also say, He went to the doctor before he went to the post office.

Similarly, the following two sentences are both correct and mean the same.
1. They went to the museum after they had eaten lunch.
2. They went to the museum after they ate lunch.

Alright, folks. I hope this lesson explained the past perfect well for you. If it had, you should bookmark it for future reference and recommend it to friends who could use the help.

Thanks for practicing your English with us. My name is Joe. Are you following me on Twitter yet? You'll find me there @joeyu2nd. You can also LIKE the small guide site on Facebook for more quick, small lessons. Catch you later.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Survey: next pronunciation lesson

I recently went through our stats here at the small blog; it tells us which posts are getting the most visitors. It turns out that a pronunciation lesson that I posted in February this year for the vowel sound /æ/ (as in cat) is among the most popular.

So, now I'm contemplating of preparing another lesson with another vowel sound that I could pair with /æ/. I was wondering which vowel sound you would like to practice with /æ/.

/æ/ & /ɑ/ (cat & car)
/æ/ & /ɔ/ (cat & coffee)
/æ/ & /ʌ/ (cat & cut)

Head over to our page on Facebook to vote, and let your voice be heard! While you're there, why not LIKE us if you haven't already?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Are you tolerant or judgmental?

"NYC: Tolerant of your beliefs, judgmental of your shoes."
Ad on the New York City subway
Once in a while, I come across clever ads in subway trains that make me CHUCKLE. This one is from Manhattan Mini Storage (No, I don't work for them.) It's STEREOTYPICAL of New Yorkers. Most of us are indeed TOLERANT of other people's ideas and beliefs, and we are proud of this. Those who aren't are at least good at keeping their opinions to themselves and their circle of friends. As for being JUDGMENTAL of people's shoes, I think that only describes a KEENLY fashion-conscious minority. ... unless I'm missing something.

What about you? Are you TOLERANT of other people's beliefs? What are you most JUDGMENTAL of?

CHUCKLE - laugh softly to yourself (go hehehe)
STEREOTYPICAL - a generalized and often simplified opinion about a particular group
TOLERANT - accepting; able to live with something different or unpleasant

JUDGMENTAL - having negative opinions about someone, often based on moral views
KEENLY - strongly, sharply

Follow Joe on Twitter @joeyu2nd, and be a fan of the small guide site on Facebook.