Monthly Archives: July 2013

Would you mind? Not at all.

English for your summer holiday

When it comes to English, it’s usually those sudden exchanges with strangers that throw you off, isn’t it? When you’re at the airport, ready to leave for your summer vacation, thinking in your own language and suddenly one of your fellow travelers is talking to you in English, you just might do a double-take. Come again?

English course Utrecht

That confusion can be compounded if that stranger happens to be a native speaker and uses an expression that doesn’t necessarily make much sense.

I witnessed one such awkward moment the last time I was in the Amsterdam airport. A guy had his bag on the seat next to him in the waiting area, and the room was getting pretty full. So someone walked up to him and asked:

Would you mind moving your bag so I can sit there?

His answer? Yes.

What’s interesting is that the guy promptly moved his bag, so it was obvious that what he meant to say was no.

Would you Mind?

When someone asks “Would you mind?” they are asking “Would it bother you to…?” or “Could I trouble you to…?”

The polite answer is No, I wouldn’t mind!

After all, it doesn’t really take so much effort to move your bag from the empty seat next to you to allow a tired stranger to sit down. When you answer “no” you are actually saying that yes, you can do what was requested!

You can also say:

Not at all.

Of course not.

Be my guest.

For example:

Would you mind covering your nose when you sneeze? (Not at all, I’m sorry for being inconsiderate.)

Would you mind holding the door? (Here you go, after you!)

Would you mind if I opened the window? (Not at all, it’s quite warm in here!)

Yes, I mind!

Sometimes the answer to “Do you mind…?” is yes! However, just a “yes” or “yes, I mind” can be quite short and even a bit rude, so we try to tone it down a bit for the sake of politeness. For example, in most developed countries nowadays, you can’t smoke inside anywhere, so when someone asks you:

Would you mind if I smoke?

English course Utrecht

You can answer

  • Well, actually yes. There’s a non-smoking sign right there, so maybe you could go outside?
  • Sorry, but yes. Inhaling your carcinogens makes me feel sick.

Leave a comment

Filed under Language Learning

I’ll take a stab at it.

English courses Utrecht

I’ll take a stab at it is another way of saying I’ll give it a go.

You will also hear “I’ll have a stab at it” (British English).

Stab means to thrust a knife into something (or someone). Stabbing your steak won’t send you to jail, but stabbing your neighbor will.

English courses Utrecht

Why do we use the word stab, which has such violent connotations, to mean try?

Some have suggested it might be related to a stab in the dark, which means a complete guess.

Whatever the origin, it’s a useful English expression. Check out the examples below and see if you can incorporate this into your active vocabulary.

I’d never tried water skiing before, but I had a stab at it while I was in Greece.

I’ll take a stab at the answer, but I really don’t know.

I’m terrible at arts and crafts but I’ll take a stab at it if that’s what we’re doing today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Language Learning

Summer! Find your place in the sun

This week’s extraordinary weather is bringing people out in droves: hordes of people have spent the weekend relaxing under the sun in one of Utrecht’s parks. This much sun is a rare occurrence in the Netherlands, so we all take full advantage of it when it’s here.

Since the sun is what everyone will be talking about this week, you’ll have plenty of occasion to use beautiful English expressions with sun, like your place in the sun.English Utrecht NL

A place in the sun can mean, depending on the context:

1. a moment you can shine or get recognition

That TED talk was incredible! The speaker really deserves her place in the sun.

2. a position that gives you what you’ve always been looking for

Robert has got a new job as a game designer. He loves it! He’s finally found his place in the sun.

3. a good or lucky position

Under him, the rupee could actually find its place in the sun as one of the strongest emerging currencies in the world. (Business Week)

Other collocations with sun:

bask in the sun

English Utrecht sun

soak up the sun / catch some rays

English Utrecht

stay out of the sun

English Utrecht

Leave a comment

Filed under Language Learning

Academic Writing: the author’s we

Writing actively

In academic writing, we talk about how we should try to write actively rather than passively. To craft clear, active sentences, many writers will have to use we at one point or another. Some writers try to avoid this completely, citing a misconstrued notion that avoiding we lends objectivity to your paper. Actually, we can be used in almost any academic paper to great effect.Academic Writing English Utrecht

Have you ever thought that we doesn’t always mean you and me?

You’ve probably heard of The Royal We (“We are not amused”), but there are a number of other non-traditional uses of we, one of which defends our use in academic writing.

The author’s we

The practice common in scientific literature of referring to a generic third person by we (instead of one or the informal you)

Ex: By adding three and five, we obtain eight.

Ex: We are thus led also to a definition of “time” in physics. — Albert Einstein

Here, “we” can refer to “the reader and the author”, since the author often assumes that the reader knows certain principles or previous theorems for the sake of brevity. This saves the author from needing to explicitly write out every step of a method or mathematical proof.

One of the purposes of the author’s we, according to the OED, is “to secure an impersonal style and tone, or to avoid the obtrusive repetition of I.”

To make this sound even more academic, use its latin name: pluralis modestiae.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business English, Writing in English