Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best Wishes this Holiday Season!!!

We raise our glasses to you and really DO wish all our English Users the very best this holiday season and hope that 2012 is a great year for you!

Have some fun, be safe and thanks for being there!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You probably think this post is about tags, DON'T YOU?

Tag questions are as common in English as fleas are on dogs. They are used everyday in all kinds of situations.

To confirm information.

To let others know we know.

Yes, even to be a little sarcastic.

So, you probably know this post is about tag questions, don't you?

But just in case, we'll do a little review.

In short, a tag question is a statement with a short question at the end to confirm the first part. Something like this:
  • You're my new neighbor, aren't you?
  • Tom broke the printer, didn't he?
  • We can make it on time, can't we?

The structure is simple:
  • If the statement is positive, the short question is negative.
  • If the statement is negative, the short question is positive.

Notice the verbs?

  • Yes, if the auxiliary verb (can, be, have, do) is positive on one side, it's negative on the other
  • If there is no auxiliary (just a regular action verb: run, eat, fly, listen), use the auxiliary do with opposite logic on the other side.
  • Verbs on both sides are in the same tense.

Why tags?
  • Tags are used mostly in conversation when the person speaking is almost sure he or she is right, but wants confirmation from someone else.
  • Tags are also use to confirm what you already know, but wish to express to others.
  • Yet tags can additionally be used sarcastically, when the speaker is sure about something, but uses a special tone or emphasizes a certain word to "make believe" that there is still some doubt. The listener will quickly identify the sarcasm. The speaker might also make the statement opposite of what he or she actually believes.

Example: (Speaker believes the test was easy)
  • Wow, that was really a hard test, wasn't it?
This use will be very frequent in comedies.


Rising intonation >> if it's really a question and there is some doubt
Falling intonation >> if you're just confirming
Special intonation >> if you're being sarcastic

Famous example:

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"
(Albert Einstein)

That was pretty easy, wasn't it?

So easy in fact, you should have no probably following the words to this classic song by Carly Simon.

"You're so vain" (you probably think this song is about you, don't you?)
Enjoy, English Users!

(TRIVIA: Listen to it a few times if you can. See if you can figure out who sings back up vocals. Answer in our next post.)

Monday, November 21, 2011


For many, turning 21, 30, 40, 50 or whatever represents something to celebrate. A birthday celebration. For others, it represents a major crisis.

Well, we're not sure, but since the Chinese say that crisis is opportunity, today we're going to take the opportunity to ask you questions about birthdays.

Some are fun, some are innocent, others you might consider inappropriate.

But whatever your answer, whatever your age, the most important thing is that you take these questions as an opportunity to review question-building in English.

And when you think of the answers, try to make them complete and meaningful. 

In fact, you could use this as a template to ask questions on a number of subjects.

  • How are birthdays celebrated in your country?
  • What are some birthday traditions you know of from other countries?
  • How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
  • What is your best birthday memory?
  • What is your worst birthday memory?
  • Have you ever had a surprise birthday party for yourself or someone else?
  • What is the best birthday gift you have ever received?
  • What is the worst birthday gift you have ever received?
  • What are some things you like to do for your birthday?
  • When is your birthday?
  • Did your parents give you birthday parties when you were a child?
  • In your opinion, What is the best time of year to have a birthday?
  • How do people you know celebrate turning 40?
  • Do you think getting older (40, 50, 60) is depressing for people, or a happy occasion?
  • What do you think is the best age?
  • Do you like going to work on your birthday?
  • Did you like going to school on your birthday when you were a child?
  • Have you ever had a surprise party?
  • Whose birthday do you always remember?
  • Among your close friends and relatives, whose birthday is coming up next?
  • About how many birthday gifts or cards do you send or give to people each year?
  • Have you ever forgotten someone's birthday that you should have remembered?
  • Do you know any famous people's birthdays? (Are any the same as yours?)
  • Do you know of any big events that happened the year you were born?
  • What is the best birthday gift you have ever received?
  • What is the best birthday gift you have ever given?
  • What is the worst birthday gift you have ever received?
  • What is the worst birthday gift you have ever given?
  • If you are in your teen years, tell how old you will be in twenty years time and say whether you look forward to that age or does it scare you.
  • If you could celebrate your own birthday the way you wanted, what would you do?
    • Where would you like to go?
    • How many people would you invite?
  • Would you rather celebrate your birthday with just your relatives or just your friends?
  • Do you remember what gifts you received on your last birthday?
  • What would you like to get most for your birthday this year?
  • Is the cost of a present important to you?
  • What kind of gift do you usually prepare for your friend's birthday?
    • Your mother's?
    • What about for other family members?
  • Which is a better present, a well-chosen gift or money?
  • Are birthdays really important?
  • How do you celebrate your birthday?
So speaking of birthdays, here's wonderful short animated film called "Bob's Birthday" about a man who discovers that turning 40 might be a great opportunity for some changes. Enjoy!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Business Lingo (Part 2)

In our last post, we looked at some English idioms used in business by native speakers. Today, we'll present you with the second part. And if you can, try to make your own sentences with these, so you can get a feel for how to use them.

1. back-of-the-envelope calculations

quick calculations; estimates using approximate numbers, instead of exact numbers

Example: I don't need the exact numbers right now. Just give me some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

Note: This expression refers to the quick calculations one would do informally, as on the back of an envelope.

2. (to) climb the corporate ladder

advance in one's career; the process of getting promoted and making it to senior management

Example: You want to climb the corporate ladder? It helps to be productive and to look good in front of your boss.

3. (to) face the music

to admit that there's a problem; to deal with an unpleasant situation realistically

Example: Enron executives finally had to face the music and admit that they were involved in some illegal activities.

4. (to) jump through hoops

to go through a lot of difficult work for something; to face many bureaucratic obstacles

Example: We had to jump through hoops to get our visas to Russia, but we finally got them.

5. nothing ventured, nothing gained

If you don't try to do something, you'll never succeed.

Example: It's risky to spend so much money developing a new brand, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And speaking of Face the Music, here's the classic hit "Running in the Family" by the pop group LEVEL 42 that tells you what this concept is all about. Listen and view and you'll see why. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Business Lingo (Part 1)

If you're an adult English User, part of the challenge is getting a grasp of (understanding) the real meaning of business idioms. 

Often, it's difficult to stay up to speed with (keep up with) all the expressions that English speakers use when discussing professional matters.

Today, we'll take look at a few of these:

1. blockbuster

a big success; a huge hit

Example: Eli Lilly made a lot of money with the prescription drug, Prozac. It was a real blockbuster.

Origin: This term comes from the blockbuster bombs used during World War Two by the British Royal Air Force. They were huge and created a large explosive force. Blockbuster ideas similarly create a big impact - and hopefully don't cause destruction like blockbuster bombs!

2. cash cow

a product, service, or business division that generates a lot of cash for the company, without requiring much investment

Example: With strong sales every year and a great brand name, Mercedes is a cash cowfor DaimlerChrysler.

3. dog-eat-dog world

a cruel and aggressive world in which people just look out for themselves

Example: Your company fired you shortly after you had a heart attack? Well, it's certainly a dog-eat-dog world!

Origin: This expression dates back to the 1500's. Wild dogs were observed fighting aggressively over a piece of food. The connection was made that people, like dogs, often compete aggressively to get what they want.

4. (to) generate lots of buzz

to cause many people to start talking about a product or service, usually in a positive way that increases sales

Example: Procter & Gamble generated lots of buzz for its new toothpaste by giving away free samples to people on the streets of New York City.

Note: "Buzz" is a popular word for "attention."

5. mum's the word

let's keep quiet about this; I agree not to tell anyone about this

Example: Please don't tell anybody about our new project. Remember: mum's the word!

Origin: The word "mum" comes from the murmur "mmmmm," the only sound you can make when your mouth is shut firmly. Try making other sounds besides "mmmmm" with your lips and mouth shut firmly, and you will see that it's impossible!

And now, for those of you who like rock and roll, here's a classic song from the world famous heavy metal group AC/DC that will now make a lot more sense. The lyrics are below. It's loud. Enjoy!

"Dog Eat Dog" by AC/DC

Well, it's a dog eat dog,
Eat cat, too
The French eat frog,
And I eat you
Businessman, when you make a deal,
Do you know who you can trust?
Do you sign your life away?
Do you write your name in dust?

Hey, hey, hey!
Every dog has his day!
It's a dog eat dog!
Dog eat dog!

"Dog Eat Dog"
Read the news
Someone win,
Someone lose
Up's above and down's below,
And Limbo's in between
Up, you win - down, you lose,
It's anybody's game

Hey, hey, hey!
Every dog has his day!
It's a dog eat dog!
Dog eat dog!


And it's an eye for eye,
Tooth for tooth
It's a lie,
That's the truth
See the blind man on the street,
Lookin' for somethin' free
Hear the kind man ask his friends,
"Hey, what's in it for me?"

Hey, hey, hey!
Every dog has his day!
It's a dog eat dog!
Dog eat dog!
(Dog eat dog! Dog eat dog!)
(Dog eat dog!) Dog eat dog!
(Dog eat dog!) Hey!
(Dog eat dog!) Whoo! Aaooo...
(Dog eat dog!) Dog eat dog!
(Dog eat dog! Dog eat dog!)
Dog eat dog eat dog eat dog!
(Dog eat dog!) Dog eat dog eat dog eat dog!
(Dog eat dog!) Dog eat dog eat - dog eat dog!
(Dog eat dog! Dog eat dog!)

Friday, September 30, 2011


In our last post, we introduced the language concept of paraprosdokian, which is often used in sitcoms and by stand-up comedians.

In this post, we want to take it to the next level and define the three key elements of humor. And in fact, these are not only things that work in sitcoms or for stand-up comedians, but if applied properly, can be used by any English User trying to break the ice of any situation.

So what are those 3 ingredients of humor?

1. Without a doubt, surprise is a major factor. Most comedians take us in one direction, establishing a narrative context that has a certain logic. Then, they completely change directions and break that logic with the surprise.  And if it works, it's the part that will generate the laughs. In fact, it should be no surprise that the term paraprosdokian comes from the Greek word for "expectation".

2. Another trick that usually works in humor is recognition. Whether it's a paraprosdokian or not, this is the kind of situation that will appeal to those that are familiar with specific jargon, experience or information. A special joke for engineers, scuba divers or Star Wars fans will not only work but resonate with them because in addition to the joke, there is the knowledge that they are laughing at something "others" could never understand. And in a sense, it means they're laughing at themselves. Obviously, in stand-up comedy and sitcoms, recognition is also used a great deal.

3. The last one has to do with making fun of yourself and not of others when making a joke. The obvious reason is that if you make fun of someone else, you may offend that person in doing so. On the other hand, if you show yourself as the one with the flaw that can be laughed at, others might feel identified, but by choice.

To illustrate these 3 strategies in humor, let's take a look at the classic "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld. A recap is provided below, but we recommend watching the entire episode for greater effect. 
  • To VIEW the VIDEO RECAP click here.
  • To VIEW the COMPLETE EPISODE click here.
  • To READ the complete TRANSCRIPT of this episode: click here.
So after watching (and reading), does the "Soup Nazi" meet these three conditions?

1. SURPRISE: Certainly, the surprise is the ending, like in all good drama and comedy. After seeing how the maker of the best soup in New York, known by all as the "Soup Nazi" tortures Jerry, George and Elaine with his harsh and arbitrary rules for ordering soup and his frequent punishment of "No soup for you!", Elaine takes revenge in a clever and unexpected way.

2. RECOGNITION: Once we know what the Soup Nazi is all about, we learn that the key to getting his good soup is to behave very well at his shop. So clearly, we recognize that Elaine is making a "big" mistake by behaving the way she does and that the punishment will be equally big.

3. MAKING FUN OF YOURSELF: For years, Seinfeld was described as "a show about nothing". But it's basically a show about four very crazy friends who live in a crazy world. And in this episode, with the excuse of the "Soup Nazi", we see just how willing to put up with abuse Jerry and George are - in this case, for a taste of good soup. They are making fun of themselves. Yet, we might get an extra laugh when we realize that... maybe we also do such silly things in our life.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Do you like SitComs? Great! Because this blog post begins with a word that is NOT funny: paraprosdokian.

What is it, right? It basically refers to a sentence or phrase in which the second part gives new meaning to the first part.

So what does it have to do with SitComs, you might ask? Well, a paraprosdokian is a language resource that usually causes us to laugh when watching SitComs, or stand up artists. In fact, it's one of the basic ingredients in this type of humor.

In fact, some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of the first part of a phrase, but they also play on the double meaning of a particular word.

And other times, they actually refer to something many of use feel as true or have wanted to express in a certain situation.

Let's look at some examples...

If I could just say a few words... I'd be a better public speaker. - Homer Simpson

The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

These are my principles. If you don't like them I have others - Groucho Marx

War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening' and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

What has four legs and tics?... My dog. - Bart Simpon

So by now you probably have an idea of what this basic ingredient of SitComs is all about.

After reading this post, Google the word paraprosdokian to search for more examples or Images (there are plenty of those). You can also check on YouTube where you will likely be linked to examples from well-known comedies. You could even try to come up with one yourself.

Here's one you're probably familiar with by now. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Itching for Idioms (Part II)

Make no bones about it, in this blog post we will deal with the second part of "Itching for Idioms".

So maybe it's no blessing in disguise, but it's still a chance for you to learn a little more about the way native speakers really speak.

However, if you're a little lost wondering what some of those things mean, we invite you to check out our previous post.

Now here are today's idioms:

1. A Dime A Dozen:
Anything that is common and easy to get.

2. Cut to the Chase:
Leave out all the unnecessary details and just get to the point.
3. Flash In The Pan:
Something that shows potential or looks promising in the beginning but fails to deliver anything in the end. 
4. Get Over It:
To move beyond something that is bothering you.
5. Good Samaritan:
Someone who helps others when they are in need, with no discussion for compensation, and no thought of a reward.

6. Hit The Books:
To study, especially for a test or exam.

7. Keep An Eye On Him:
You should carefully watch him.

8.Pedal to the metal:
To go full speed, especially while driving a vehicle.

9. Raining Cats and Dogs:
A very loud and noisy rain storm.


10. You Are What You Eat:
In order to stay healthy you must eat healthy foods.

As always, we hope you find these idioms useful and we encourage you to use them and to look for them in conversation, in movies or as we suggested last post on Google.

In the meantime, have fun and if you get hungry remember: You Are What You Eat!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Itching for Idioms (Part I)

A frequent question by English Users is:

Aside from grammar and pronunciation, what else do I need to learn to acquire the full skills of a native speaker?

The answer is simple: learn, study and use idioms as much as possible.

In fact, you should be itching (having a strong desire) for idioms. So today, we'll provide with a few:

1. A Blessing In Disguise:
Something good that isn't recognized at first.

2. Bend Over Backwards:
Do whatever it takes to help. Willing to do anything.

3. Don't count your chickens before they hatch:
Don't rely on it until your sure of it.

4. Feeding Frenzy:
An aggressive attack on someone by a group.

5. Get Up On The Wrong Side Of The Bed:
Someone who is having a horrible day.

6. He Lost His Head / She Lost Her Head:
Angry and overcome by emotions.

7. It Takes Two To Tango:
A two person situation where both people are at fault, although it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing they're doing together.

8. Let Bygones Be Bygones:
To forget about a disagreement or argument.

9. Make No Bones About:
To state a fact so there are no doubts or objections.

10. Pass The Buck:
Avoid responsibility by giving it to someone else.


Now, if you're still itching, try the following. Google any of these idioms, making sure that you put "parentheses on both sides of the expression". Hit ENTER and see for yourself how these idioms are used in the real world of English.

You might have to get passed the DICTIONARY examples, but after that you will find them used in sentences, titles of articles, quotes and in all other sorts of way.

Good luck and have fun!

And remember, it takes two to tango. So practice your English with someone. It's twice the fun! So, why not call PLS and find a course to suit your needs?

In the meantime, enjoy this classic from classic Hollywood superstar Dean Martin singing the song: "Takes Two to Tango".

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Talking about movies – Part II

You loved Part I so much, we decided to do a second part.

Here in Part II, we provide you more cool voca
bulary you can use next time you're talking about movies and the things that make them unique and even ridiculous.

B film
: a low budget movie, possibly with a second rate cast and production
Backstory: the events that happened before a movie begins (backstories are sometimes revealed with flashbacks or opening text)
Blooper: Mistakes made by actors or the film crew while the movie is being filmed
Extra: An actor in a film or TV show that has no spoken parts
Flick: another way to say movie
Foreshadowing: Something in the movie that suggests what is going to happen next
Prequel: A second or third movie in a series that takes place in time before the original movie
Damsel in distress: a beautiful young woman placed in danger by a villain, but eventually rescued by the hero
Slapstick: Comedy that uses a lot of funny, harmless, violence
Green screen: A screen used to film actors and actresses, that is later replaced by a virtual background.


1. Ed Wood was one of the most famous directors of B films during the 1950s.
2. The backstory of each Star Wars episode is presented as a text in scroll at the beginning of each movie.
3. A common blooper in movies is when a microphone or a member of the crew appear in the middle of the action.
4. I have friend who's worked as an extra on a famous movie.
5. The girls met at the mall to watch the same flick for the third time.
6. The black raven in the scene foreshadows the return of the dark forces.
7. The prequel of the original movie tells the story of why the bad guy became a gangster.
8. Kim Bassinger played the damsel in distress in the Batman movie starring Michael Keaton.
9. Charlie Chaplin was the master of slapstick comedy.
10. The movie 300 was mostly filmed on a green screen studio.

And speaking of ridiculous, we invite you to check out some of the biggest bloopers in movie history.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Talking about movies – Part I

When you’re an English User, a great way to practice conversation is to talk about movies. In order to help you achieve that, we're providing a list of some of the most common expressions used to talk about show business.

Synopsis: a short summary of the main points of a movie plot
Cameo: a brief appearance by a famous person in a movie
Adaptation: when a TV show or movie was created from a book
Cliché ridden: something that has been overused so many times it has lost its effect
Thriller: an exciting story, usually associated with horror or suspense
A-list: the most popular actors and actresses
Tale: a story, often associated with adventure stories
Highest-grossing: movies that made the most money for a certain period of time
Genre: category or type of film
Star-studded: a show with many recognizable actors and actresses

Let's check out some examples:
  • What's that movie about? Can you give me a synopsis?
  • My favorite tennis player makes a cameo in the movie.
  • That movie was an adaptation of a great novel.
  • Although the movie has great moments, it’s very cliché ridden.
  • I love watching thrillers, but my girlfriend prefers comedies.
  • The movie must have a huge budget because there are about 20 A-list actors in it.
  • Back to the Future tells the tale of a young boy who must travel back in time to save his parents’ marriage and his own existence.
  • Titanic was one of the highest-grossing movies in history.
  • My favorite genre is sci-fi.
  • The Oscars is the most star-studded event of the year.
And speaking of movies, here is a synopsis of one of the highest-grossing movies of all times, starring one of the A-list actors of the 1980s and 1990s: Michael J. Fox.

Back to the Future

High school student Marty McFly doesn’t have the most pleasant of lives. Scorned by his principal at school, Marty must also endure the deteriorating relationship between his nerdy father George and his once lovely mother Lorraine. On top of that, the family suffers the constant bullying of Biff, George's supervisor at work. But Marty is also friends with an eccentric scientist: Doc Brown, who is building a time machine. Yet accidentally, Marty gets sent back into the 1950s. And without meaning to, he interferes with the budding romance of his now-teenaged parents. Marty finds himself having to reunite his parents-to-be or disappear from existence in the 1980s. It won't be easy, especially with Biff, now also a teenager, complicating matters.

Think about a movie you really loved. Could you write a synopsis for it like this, without giving away the end?

And closing out our post, here is a memorable clip that will take lovers of Back to the Future back in time... edited to the movie's mega hit song "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and the News. Enjoy...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Talking like the BAD GUYS!

How to talk about crime and get away with it.

It's a fact. Just about everyone who studies English as a second language has heard English words related to criminal activities. Are we implying that English Users break the law?

Not at all. But many do watch cop movies and TV shows filled with the special lingo of the street.

Still, after turning off the tube (the TV), how many words can anyone remember?

Just in case, today we'll go over the key words that describe crime and criminal activities. See how many of these you know. Can you use them in a sentence?


To Commit Homicide: To kill someone (on purpose or accidentally).
To Mug: To steal from a person on the street with the threat of force.
To Kidnap: To take a person without their permission (often for money)
To Shoplift: To steal from a store (or shop).
To Rob: To steal from a person or business
To Commit Arson: To intentionally start a fire.
To Pickpocket: To quietly steal a small item (wallet) from someone's pocket
To Burglarize: To enter a private property and take things without the owner's permission
To Vandalize: To damage private or public property intentionally
To Embezzle: To steal money placed in one's trust belonging to the organization for which one works
By the way, to murder is to commit an intentional homicide.


1. An innocent man at the scene of the crime was charged with committing homicide.
2. My uncle was mugged by two guys with a knife who took his watch and wallet.
3. The SWAT team liberated 5 office workers kidnapped by an armed man who used to work with them.
4. A famous actress was arrested for shoplifting at an expensive store.
5. Bonnie and Clyde were famous bank robbers during the 1920s.
6. He was accused of committing arson after burning down his neighbor's house.
7. Lately, there has been a lot of pickpocketing on the subway.
8. My house was burglarized while I was on vacation and they took all my electronics.
9. The monument was vandalized with offensive spray painted messages.
10. The city mayor was arrested for embezzling one million dollars of the city's funds.

Can you make more of your own?

And in closing of today's post, here's a classic song about two baddies (bad people) called Take the Money and Run by the Steve Miller Band with lyrics. WARNING: This song contains some intentional incorrect use of English. Can you spot where this happens? Enjoy!

You may also check out the lyrics here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


No matter what language we speak, we all have feelings.

As an English User, by now you probably know the more common ones. Especially, since instant messaging programs represent so many of them with a smiley.

But what about all the other feelings?

Well, the purpose of this post is to talk about how to express some of them.

Cranky: A bit angry or in a bad mood.
Self-conscious: Uncomfortable with one's self in public.
Listless: No energy and/or no feelings.
Agreeable: Pleased or comfortable.
Ecstatic: Very very happy.
Pissed Off: A more common (but honest) way to say you are angry at someone / something
Restless: Anxiously anticipating something (good or bad) and can't wait.

Let's check out some examples:

1. Mr. Woods is often cranky in the morning.
2. I get self-conscious when I get on stage.
3. After the accident, she felt listless for months.
4. After being denied a promotion at work, Bob was not feeling agreeable with his job.
5. When Walter heard the news of the prize, he became ecstatic.
6. Homer got pissed off at his cable company for interrupting his service for an hour.
7. I had a restless night and couldn't get any sleep.

By the way, try thinking of your own examples for these words.

And last but not least, since traditional smileys are so much fun, we now invite you to watch them sing and rap in the following commercial video. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Yes, English Users, last post we broke the news that some words in the English language are affected with multiple personalities.

Looking back, we're truly sorry if we've broken the heart of those who thought that a simple word like "move" only had one meaning.

Today, we'll prove the same holds true for the word "break".

But hey, it doesn't mean that every time you see a new word, you should break out in tears because you have to break the code to break through to the "other" meaning.

So let's break this down in simple terms.

  1. Whatever you read, try to understand and infer the general meaning (or topic) of the text first.
  2. Then and only then, use a dictionary to find words that are unclear.
  3. Remember: words that describe basic ideas, attributes, objects and actions are used in a denotative and connotative ways.
  4. When they are used in a denotative way, the sentence will usually have a simple linear structure. (He broke the glass. Get the report! Where did I put my keys? The box is heavy.)
  5. Beware: often they can also form part of an idiom, so the entire expression gives a connotative meaning to the original word.
  6. There are usually clues in such sentences that will determine if it has a simple denotative meaning or if it's something more complex or connotative. (Remember step 1)
  7. In English - and really in any language - you shouldn't search for the meaning of a word out of context.
Suggested answers from last post:
  • Cool (adj): A temperature approximating cold (denotative) / Something is style or fashionable (connotative)
  • Sharp (adj): A pointed object like a knife (denotative) / A very intelligent person (connotative)
  • Soft (adj): Something that is not hard (denotative) / Lacking strength or courage (connotative)
  • Drive (noun): A trip in a vehicle (denotative) / Inner strength and determination (connotative)
Now try making sentences.

For more meanings of idioms with the word break or any word, check out this link.

And speaking of "break", we now invite you to take a break from all this and have a little fun watching the following video. It's The Simpsons - a show with "multiple personalities" making fun of yet another TV show: the prison drama Prison Break.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Words in English - just like in most other languages - often have more than one meaning. That`s right, English Users, they have... multiple personalities.

But before calling the word psychiatrist, let`s take a closer look at how this works.

The meaning of a word is either denotative or connotative.

The denotative meaning or the denotation of the word is basically its basic literal meaning, the one that normally appears first in the dictionary.

The connotative meaning on the other hand is a meaning that comes from an emotional or cultural association of the word. This meaning is usually not obvious and sometimes generates confusion when we first learn it.

Let`s take the word “move” for example.

Denotative Meaning
move (v.intr.) to change in position from one point to another.
Ex. Bill moved to Florida last week. (He literally changed his position from where he was before)

Connotative Meaning
move (v.intr.) to generate emotion
Ex. I was moved by Sally`s graduation speech. (The speech generated emotion in me, but I did not literally “move” anywhere).

“Moving Pictures” - The cover of Canadian rock band RUSH`s 1981 album Moving Pictures intentionally depicts a situation where both the denotative and the connotative meaning of the word “move” are true.
In the picture, we see a group of movers moving pictures from a museum to a different location. At the same time, we see a family, and especially an older woman who is so “moved” by the pictures (or the fact that they`re being moved) that she drops her grocery bags.

Interestingly enough, the compound term “moving pictures” is synonymous of “motion pictures” or movies, as the scene looks like it might be part of a movie.

So remember, English Users, words don`t usually have just one meaning.

For a better idea of this, see if you can find denotative and connotative meanings for the following words:

Cool (adj)
Sharp (adj)
Soft (adj)
Drive (noun)

Next post, we`ll provide our suggested answers. Good luck!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

TURNED ON by Phrasals - part 2... (No TURNING BACK!)

Hey, English Users, there's no turning back (returning) because we're back with the second part of Phrasal Verbs with "TURN".

We just hope, you're still turned on!

to turn against
(change opinion from positive to negative)

* Althought they were traditional allies, they have now turned against each other.
* After the scandal, many fans turned against her.

to turn someone away
(refuse entry to a place to someone)

* The store manager turned away a man who was behaving very strangely.
* Don't turn me away just because you don't like what I have to say!

to turn back (to return to where you were before)

* You passed the point of no return. There's no turning back now.
* I forgot my keys at home, so I had to turn back.

to turn down (refuse something or someone)

* Management turned down Bill's proposal.
* Although she was confident when she applied for the job, they turned down her application.

to turn down (lower the volume or the intensity of a device)

* Hey, man. Could you turn it down a little? Your radio is killing my ears!
* It's really chilly here. Could you turn down the air conditioner, please?

to turn in
(to surrender to authorities)
* After a 13 hour standoff with police, the kidnappers turned themselves in.
* Despite commiting a terrible crime, he took advantage of his celebrity status and didn't turn himself in right away.

So once again, we truly encourage you review these sentences and try to come up with samples of your own. And if you'd like, share them in the comments section below!

And for a memorable use of "No Turning Back...", we encourage you to WATCH the classic "Blue Pill / Red Pill Scene" from THE MATRIX. Can you spot it?

It's got optional subtitles in English (CC), but embedding is disabled, so please click HERE to watch. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TURNED ON by Phrasals - part 1

Do you get turned on (seduced) by phrasal verbs? Probably not, eh?

Well, either way, before you turn in (go to bed), please turn your attention to this week's post about phrasal verbs with TURN.

As it turns out (could result) you might learn a few before you turn off the computer.

turn on (seduce)

* Maggie was turned on by his charm rather than his looks.
* What turned you on to buying this smart phone? I thought you hated them.

turn in (go to bed)

* I'm really tired. I think I'm going to turn in.
* So, what time did you turn in last night?

to turn in (deliver results)

* Our company's turned in its best results in over ten years.
* Time's up. Please turn in your test.

to turn into (change or transform into something different)

* If we don't stop inflation now, the situation could turn into a nightmare.
* The architects turned this old building into a modern condominium.

to turn off (switch the power to "off" on a machine or device)

* I forgot to turn off the A/C before I left.
* I recommend you turn off the computer and restart it.

to turn on (switch the power to "on" on a machine or device)

* The first thing I do in the morning, is turn on my computer and the coffee machine.
* It was dark in the house when I went in. Nobody had turned the lights on.

to turn on (betray or be disloyal)

* The president fired a staff memmber who turned on him.
* Mike turned on his boss because he wanted his job.

to turn out (have a particular result)

* We had a very good afternoon. The weather turned out well.
* I was so pleased with the food. Even the cakes turned out perfectly.

to turn out (people who go and participate at an event)

* Hundreds of thousands turned out to see the Royal Wedding.
* How many people do you think will turn out in the next elections?

In conclusion, whether you are turned on or not by phrasal verbs with TURN, we strongly recommend you practice them in your everyday use of English.

Who knows... you just might turn someone else on... without meaning to. But you wouldn't be the first one.

Robert Palmer beat you to it (did it before you), in this classic hit from the 80s. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 31, 2011


For Mr. T, the famous TV personality from the 1980's, everyone was a fool everyday, all the time.

However, for many countries of the world, this may not be true, except on April first... also known as: April Fool's Day.

And although it's not a national holiday, many people really get a "kick" out of celebrating it. Why? Mainly, because, it's a day to tell wild stories, play hoaxes and other practical jokes on friends, family or colleagues.

But not everybody agrees on the history of April Fool's Day. Most historians believe it comes from a misreading of a date in Geoffrey Chaucer's classic The Canterbury Tales (1392), in which one character is tricked by another.

Still, others believe that it originated during the Middle Ages when people who celebrated the New Year on April 1st were ridiculed by those who celebrated it on January 1st as a result of a change in the Gregorian calendar.

Nevertheless, for decades the media has been known to play April Fool's day practical jokes on audiences. Here are some of the most memorable ones:

2002: Google reveals its page-ranking system is actually done by domestic pigeons.

2007: The BBC reported that it was conducting a trial run of a new Sniff-Screen technology on its website, prompting numerous people to call in and claim it really worked.

1998: Burger King takes out an ad in USA Today saying it would sell special left-handed burgers, which were designed to have condiments spill out of the right side.

1976: An astronomer tells listeners of BBC radio that the alignment of two planets had caused a strange disturbance in gravity, and told people to jump up and feel like they were floating. Many listeners called in exclaiming it worked.

1998: Alabama lawmakers vote to change the value of pi.

1957: A British tv program reports that Italians were harvesting spaghetti from trees, causing people to call in and ask how to grow their own.

If you enjoyed those, here's a link to a website that lists the top 100 April Fool's Day pranks of all time.

For more on April Fool's Day, we invite you to watch this video that includes a report from Voice of America, telling the story of this famous day.

Enjoy, English Users and remember to send in your 20 page reports on this topic by next week!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

COMMON MISTAKES - Weather vs. Whether

Here are another two words that sound alike, are often confused and have absolutely different meanings:

Weather: the atmospheric conditions in a specific place, usually making reference to the sun, clouds, temperature, wind and rain.

Whether: a way to introduce a statement or question involving alternative possibilities.


1. The weather for today is partly-cloudy, with a 30 percent chance of rain and winds from the South-East at 40 miles per hour.

2. Tina loves rainy weather when she has to paint.

3. Tom needs to decide whether or not he's going to work together as a member of this team.

4. Whether we have the soccer match this afternoon depends on the weather.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Last post, we discussed what phrasal verbs were essentially about. Today, we'll look at examples, starting with the letter A.

ACHE FOR - want something a lot
Ex. Tom's aching to go surfing again next weekend.

ACT ON - take action as a result of information obtained or of an event
Ex. Acting on evidence found at the crime scene, police are now looking for two suspects instead of one.

ACT UP - behave badly or strangely
Ex. I called you here because your son has been acting up all week in class.

ADD UP -to be a satisfactory explanation for something.
Ex. If you left your house an hour ago, you couldn't have been here for the past two hours. Something doesn't add up!

ANSWER FOR - be responsible for someone or something
Ex. Mary is the team leader, so she'll have to answer for any of its members.

ASK OUT - invite someone on a date (can also be expressed as "Take out")
Ex. I wanted to ask her out, but she's already got a date for the dance.

ASK OVER - invite to your home or place
Ex. Forget about the dance, ask her over to your place next time.

And speaking of aching and not having the nerve to ask or take someone out, here's a song from Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand that deals with just that. Check it out and practice today's phrasals!

Monday, February 21, 2011


So what’s up (happening) with phrasal verbs? Why do we need to know them?

First of all, phrasal verbs are used by native speakers to describe things in a natural way. So, to truly understand them, you’ll have to get friendly with them. And the first step to doing that is understanding what they are and what they are not.

So what are phrasal verbs then?

Basically, they’re two or three word phrases that native speakers use in place of a more formal or academic way of describing a verb idea or phrase. In other words, they don't use phrasal verbs to show off (demonstrate with pride) how cool they talk. It is how they talk.

But here’s the thing about PVs. You know, phrasal verbs... Oh wait, we just invented an acronym. A what? An acronym. You remember, right?

Naturally, if you checked out (studied closely) our last POST, you know what we mean. If you didn’t, maybe it’s a good idea to catch up (reach the same point others have reached before you). LOL!

Anyway, for the lovers of technicalities out there, a phrasal verb is made up (composed) of a verb plus one or more prepositions or adverbs.


But, guess what? That’s basically irrelevant.

You see, the meaning of that verb or that preposition or adverb alone will tell you nothing about the meaning of the phrasal verb.

Why? Because a PV has a meaning of its own.

It’s the way native speakers naturally express themselves. In fact, often you might notice native speakers stress the preposition or adverb (also called particle) more than the verb. Almost as if the real meaning was there, although it really isn’t.

But don’t some native speakers - perhaps managers or scientists - speak without the use of phrasal verbs? What about the British? No, not really. So get over (overcome the reality of) it.

So what’s the best way to learn PVs? Learn a few and practice them in context any chance you get. Catch on (understand)?

Great! So that sums up (concludes) this first approach on phrasal verbs. Next time, we’ll check out (study closely) a few more. In the meantime, look out (be alert) for any PVs that might come your way ;)

Oh, look, here are some... in this famous song by The Beatles. So what's that phrasal verb John, Paul, George and Ringo are singing? And what on Earth does it mean?

Monday, January 31, 2011

BTW RU LOL? (Know what they mean?)

As electronic communication (email, chat, sms, mms) becomes more and more pervasive in our world, users of English as a second language are also beginning to use acronyms on a frequent basis.

Here are some of the most popular ones:

FAQ Frequently Asked Question
Thx Thanks
TIA Thanks in advance
IMO In my opinion
CU See you
FYI For your information
BTW By the way
Fwd Forward
LOL Laughing out loud
2 to
U you
RU are you

And there are many, many more. The important thing is that you keep in mind that these acronyms are to be used for business friendly or informal situations. In other words, don't use them for very formal communication.

For more information, you may also check out this very complete Acronym List on the web. There you will find a very extensive list, some formal, some informal.

Acronyms are almost a way of life in English speaking countries. So just for fun, here's a video that tells a silly little story with acronyms. Watch it and see how many you know... and how many you don't? Enjoy!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

FORMAL and INFORMAL "Word-drobe"

Sometimes the words we use are like the clothes we put on. Like our wardrobe.

If we need to be formal, we choose more formal and academic words. When we need to be friendlier, we relax our tone a bit. Of course, when we're hanging out with friends or close colleagues, we pretty much say things in a casual way.

Unfortunately, when using English as a second language things are not always so simple. This is especially true for speakers of Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian) who tend to use the familiar "latin-based" words in any given situation. Well, as it happens, those sound formal in English. Whereas, the "anglo saxon" words usually sound more common and relaxed.

To provide some insight, here are ten formal words and their informal (or more relaxed) counterparts used in context so it makes more sense.

  • This plan is convenient = This plan works for me.
  • Please contact Susie this afternoon = Please get in touch with Susie this afternoon.
  • Could you provide us with some assistance please? = Could you help us out?
  • I need to postpone the meeting until next week. = I've got to put off the meeting 'til next week.
  • Inform them that the conditions of the agreement are not acceptable. = Tell them the deal is off.
  • Later, I will arrange a meeting between you and the team. = Later, I'll set up a meeting between you and the team.
  • They require two references. = They need two references.
  • Thomas has not replied yet. = Thomas hasn't answered back.
  • We need to inquire you on what happened. = We need to ask you about what happened.
  • I truly regret the incident at the club. = I'm so sorry about what happened at the club.
Read the list over a few times. See which one you would probably use and in which situation. Ask yourself if you tend to be more formal or informal when using English as a second language.

And speaking of formal and informal wardrobe, we invite you to practice listening comprehension with "The Pen is Mightier than the Pencil" epidode of THE ODD COUPLE, a classic American sitcom about Felix and Oscar, two divorced men. Felix is a neat freak while Oscar is sloppy and casual. They share the same apartment, and their different lifestyles inevitably lead to some conflicts and laughs. Enjoy!