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Some Common English Idioms, Part I

The English language, which is spoken as an official language in countries as widely ranging as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia, has gathered many idioms over the centuries that are still in use today. An idiom is basically a phrase that is figurative and used to describe literal situations with words that may not be clear to a non-native speaker. Let's take a look today at a few common idioms that you may hear when you are speaking English with somebody.

 

A team of scribes with the "wisdom of Solomon" "went the extra mile"

to make King James' translation "all things to all men."

Captions 6-7, The History of English - The King James Bible

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The idiom "to go the extra mile" means to make an extra effort at something. If you are not familiar with the Bible or the Quran, you may not know who Solomon (also written "Sulayman") was. To say someone is as "wise as Solomon" means they are very smart indeed, as King Solomon is considered by religious people to have been a very wise prophet. 

 

So it's going to be forever

or it's going to go down in flames.

Captions 19-20, Taylor Swift - Blank Space

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The idiom "to go down in flames" probably originates from the time of the First World War, when airplanes were first used in combat and would literally "go down in flames." Its figurative meaning is to fail suddenly and dramatically. A similar phrase, "to be shot down in flames," means to be suddenly rejected.

 

So, the expression "once in a blue moon"

is a way of saying, "very, very rarely—almost never."

Captions 42-43, The Alphabet - the Letter M

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The meaning of this idiom is nicely explained in the example sentence. A "blue moon" has several different meanings, but all of them mean a type of moon that is not actually blue to the eye, but only occurs every several months or years. The phrase first appeared in print in the early 1500s and has thus been in common usage for 500 years!

 

But he said he could cut us some slack.

Caption 30, Business English - Difficulties with Coworkers and Contracts

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The idiom "to cut somebody some slack" means to not judge someone too harshly. Some think that the phrase, which has been in use for some hundreds of years, comes from the way sailors tie a ship to a dock with ropes. To "give slack to" or "to slacken" means to loosen or allow more line or rope.

 

You can eat all my food, smash up my walls, but I draw the line...

Caption 20, A Mickey Mouse Cartoon - Goofy's Grandma

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The idiom "to draw the line" means that a limit has been reached and something must stop. The ancient Romans would draw a line in the sand and order their troops not to proceed past that point. It has been used as an idiom in English for hundreds of years in a figurative sense.

 

Further Learning
Try using the above idioms in your own sentences and have another student or your teacher check your work to see if you properly understood the meanings. Thank you for using Yabla English!

Colloquial Contractions in American English, Part I

The topic above looks a bit complicated, but it's actually quite easy. "Colloquial" means "casual" as opposed to "formal," and a "contraction" is just the shortening of words. So let's talk about some of the ways that words are shortened in casual speech in American English. 

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In American English, the colloquial contractions you'll hear most often are:

"kinda" [kind of], "wanna" [want to], and "gonna" [going to].

Captions 8-9, English with Annette O'Neil - Colloquial Contractions

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These words are just casually spoken contractions of "kind of," "want to," and "going to."

 

I just kinda stay away from all that. It's not part of my life.

Caption 77, Ask Jimmy Carter - Interview with Cameron Diaz

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You do wanna keep your resume to one page.

Caption 4, Job Hunting - 4 Resume Do's & Don'ts

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You also do wanna highlight the results, the experiences.

Caption 16, Job Hunting - 4 Resume Do's & Don'ts

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What are you gonna [going to] do with it when you grow up?

Caption 8, A Charlie Brown Christmas - Snowflakes

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You definitely do not want to use these kinds of informal words in formal writing, for instance when applying for a job! 

 

There's another similar contraction that you will commonly hear among native speakers of American English: 

 

I'll talk to ya later, Mick. I gotta go.

Caption 32, A Mickey Mouse Cartoon - Goofy's Grandma

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I mean, you show up and your hair's gotta be in place and the lipstick has to be right.

Caption 43, Nicole Kidman - Batman Forever

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The conjunction "gotta" derives from "got to" or "have got to," in the sense of "have to" or "must". A more formal version of the sentences above would be "I have to go" or "I must go," and "Your hair has to be in place" or "Your hair must be in place."

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Further Learning
Watch this video on Yabla English to learn about more contractions, and search the videos on Yabla English for more real world examples of these colloquial contractions used in a real world context.

Making Phone Calls in English

Making a phone call in a language that is not your mother tongue can be quite nerve-racking! For this month's newsletter, we'll look some phrases that are commonly used in both formal and informal phone conversations.

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People generally answer the phone “Hello?” on their private line, with “[Last name] residence” on a family home phone number, or more formally by using the word “speaking.”

 

Hi, this is the Irish Press, Daniel speaking.

Caption 44, Business English - Starting on a new job - Part 2

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When you make a call, you will first need to introduce yourself. 

 

Hello, this is Daniel. -Hi Daniel, this is Julia from Phonez and More.

Caption 10, Business English - Difficulties with coworkers and contracts - Part 2

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Uh, hi, Jonathan. It's Julia Smith for the marketing department interview.

Caption 7, Business English - The job interview - Part 2

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You might then need to ask if the person you want to speak to is available. The informal version is “Is [name] there?”, but for formal calls it’s better to use the following:

 

May I please speak to Daniel in advertising sales?

Caption 9, Business English - Difficulties with coworkers and contracts - Part 2

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Sometimes you might want to state the purpose of your call right away, so that the person answering can re-direct your call to someone who can help you.

 

Hi, I'm calling about an apartment that I saw listed on Craig's List?

Caption 33, Jessica and Liz - how much and how many

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The formal way to conclude a phone conversation might involve thanking the person or setting up a next time to talk. 

 

Have a good day and I'll talk to you soon. 'Bye. -Goodbye.

Caption 56, Business English - Difficulties with coworkers and contracts - Part 2

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Of course, between friends, even if they are cartoon characters, much more informal goodbyes are possible: 

 

I'll talk to ya later, Mick. I gotta go.

Caption 32, A Mickey Mouse Cartoon - Goofy's Grandma

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Further Learning
Watch the business English videos linked above on Yabla English to hear the sentences in the full context of a formal conversation. This helpful webpage provides additional telephone conversations with both audio and a transcription available.

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