Tag Archives: English expressions

It’s just not all it’s cracked up to be.

When you say something is “not all it’s cracked up to be” you mean that you think it’s not as great as everyone says it is. Not to say that Halloween isn’t fun, just that it’s over-hyped. So: Halloween isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

You can use this for almost anything:

College isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: the one-time ticket to success is more likely to result in a lifetime of debt.

Utopia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Why working for yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Why intermittent fasting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

 

And finally,

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Vol is vol and no rainchecks!

Vol is vol. How to translate this little Dutch beauty?

I’ll tell you what not to do: full is full. NO.

Your translation will depend on the context.

 

If it’s for a concert or show:

Space is limited.

First come, first served.

Tickets will be sold on a first come first serve basis.

Seats will be allocated on a first come first serve basis.

 

If you’re selling a product:

Once they’re gone, they’re gone!

Limited supply.

Limited time offer.

No rainchecks.

 

What’s a raincheck? It’s the opposite of vol=vol actually. When a store is out of stock of a sale item, you can get a rain check and then come back and get the item another time for the sale price! Talk about customer service. 🙂

Here is what a rain check looks like at Target:

rain check english lessons utrecht

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Fortune favors the brave

As a new academic year begins, here’s a thought :

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For more than 2200 years, people have been exhorted to take action, to dare, to aspire to achieve great things. How can you use this expression in your life today?

 

Colleague: I can wait to publish this article until next year when I have more experience.

You: Fortune favors the brave! You might get accepted already–you never know.

 

I’ve decided to sign up for this writing course even though I’m not finished writing my article yet. It will stimulate me to get it done and you know, fortune favors the brave!

 

Child: The slide is scary!

You: Fortune favors the brave! Go for it!

 

 

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Top 10 English mistakes among Dutch speakers and how to correct them

Dear Dutch compatriots,english utrecht

Maybe this year you resolved to improve your English on a professional level. In order to get you started on the right foot, please find below 10 small changes that you can make today that will greatly improve your fluency.

10. I live in Utrecht for two years.

Dutch tenses are used differently than English ones, even if they look similar. Beware! Whenever you have “for 3 months” or “since December” use the form “I have lived” and not “I live”

✔I have lived in Utrecht for two years and I’ve worked here for three months now.

9.  Maybe I do it soon.

English uses the future tense more than Dutch does. Start pronouncing the ‘ll and your English will noticeably improve: I’ll, you’ll, he’ll, she’ll, it’ll, we’ll, they’ll. Read more about when to use will in English.

✔Maybe I’ll do it soon. Don’t worry, I’ll get it done before the end of the week.

8. Yes. No.

You know this: English is less direct and more polite than Dutch. Answering with just one word sounds rude (I know you don’t mean to be!) Remember the rule of three to be more polite:

✔Yes I do. / No I don’t. / Yes I have. / No I haven’t.

Have you finished that presentation yet?

No I haven’t.

7. Hereby

You only use this word in English if you’re writing a contract. Since you probably aren’t doing that, throw this word away. When attaching a document to an email, use

✔Please find the revised version of my article attached.

6. on school

Many prepositions are used similarly, so it’s hard to tell which prepositions are different. On is an easy one though: Are you sitting on the roof of your school? If not, then you are

✔at school

5. Greetings

There are innumerable ways to translate groetjes or groeten, none of which are greetingsRead the blog post about how (not) to use greetings.

✔Cheers/Take care/Kind regards

4. The report is published.

Is published is the past tense in Dutch but the present tense in English, so it usually does not translate exactly. Read more about how to get the passive right in English.

✔The report was published (yesterday). / The report has (already) been published.

3. I am having an idea.

Certain verbs cannot be used in the ing form, even when you’re talking about right now. The most commonly misused one is have because have also appears in many expressions where it means something else, like

We’re having dinner (have = eat)

He’s having a great time (have a great time = enjoy oneself)

When have only means have, it can only appear one way:

✔I have an idea. He has a plan. We have our own company.

2. When I would do that, you wouldn’t like it.

There are actually two issues here: when and would do. Read the post about if/when and conditional sentences.

✔If I did that, you wouldn’t like it.

1. I have seen that yesterday.

I have seen/I saw sounds a lot like ik heb gezien/ik zag. However, you use each form in a completely different way than you do in Dutch. When an action is finished (last week, on Tuesday, yesterday), you have to use I saw even though you would make the sentence with ik heb gezien in Dutch:

✔I saw that yesterday.

If you learned something from this post, please share it with your friends or colleagues!

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Punctual, prompt, and on time

Punctuality is valued differently everywhere it seems, but here in the Netherlands, it is valued! Time is money, right? Maybe you’re turning over a new leaf this year and trying to be on time more often. How do you talk about it?

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Punctual and prompt are used in slightly different ways.

Punctual means arriving exactly at the appointed time.

We expect guests to be punctual at meals.

He is not a particularly punctual person.

You can use on time in almost the same way, but you can’t use it just before a noun.

We expect guests to be on time at meals.

He is not a particularly on time person. He is usually not on time.

Prompt means punctual, but it also means doing something quickly, without delay.

He answered the phone promptly.

She responded promptly to my inquiry.

Thanks for your prompt reply!

Now, if you’re going to start being on time, there are a few more words you need: sharp and on the dot. They both mean “exactly, precisely” and are used with time.

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This is what 6:00 on the dot looks like.

The meeting starts at 9 o’clock sharp.

We’ll see you at 6 o’clock on the dot. Please don’t be late.

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Turning over a new leaf

It’s January and everyone seems to be turning over a new leaf. Here a leaf is like a page in a book, not a leaf like something that falls from the trees in the autumn. This is an empty page, a chance to start over, to begin anew. When we turn over a new leaf we try to do better, to be better than we were before.

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Likewise, we can use leaf as a verb when talking about turning pages: to leaf through a book.

He leafed through the book quickly, trying to find the answer.

When you leaf through something, you turn the pages quickly, looking briefly at each page or even every couple of pages. You don’t read every page. You generally leaf through a book in the bookshop when deciding whether or not to buy it.

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She fell off the face of the Earth.

I haven’t posted here for the last few weeks and I’ve been pretty absent on social media too. (It’s ok if you didn’t notice!) That’s because I was on vacation! However, to the outside world, it might have looked like I fell off the face of the Earth. When you say this about someone, you imply that you haven’t seen or heard from them in a long time. They have, essentially, disappeared, or they are not making contact. It sounds pretty extreme, I know, but that’s the fun of it!

Why do we say the face of the Earth? This is not your eyes-nose-mouth face, but the face that means surface. If you fall off the face of the Earth, you can imagine falling off a cliff like this one in Ireland:

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This expression seems to imply that the Earth is flat and that we’ve fallen off the edge, never to be heard from again.

Here are some other expressions with the face of the Earth:

She’s the nicest person on the face of the Earth. (~in the world)

He dropped off/disappeared off the face of the Earth. (~completely disappeared)

The virus was wiped off the face of the Earth. (~was eradicated)

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How to talk about your “appointments” in English

Appointments are an integral part of Dutch life and having to plan get-togethers far in advance is typically Dutch. Some foreigners find this hard to adapt to in the beginning. They say it lacks spontaneity, especially those foreigners who come from the lower latitudes where things are a bit more chaotic spontaneous.english making appointments

I think this is reflective in our use of language: an appointment is something that has been scheduled properly far in advance with one person. A get-together with just one friend at a time seems pretty common in Dutch culture.

However, many times (in other places) social events are not usually planned out so far in advance and frequently happen with groups of people rather than just one. You don’t make an appointment with a group of friends– you get together.

There are so many types of appointments to be made that in English they don’t all fall under one word.

You can use appointment if the meeting is professional in nature, or if you are consuming a service: an appointment at the dentist.

If it’s romantic in nature, then it’s a date.

date

If you’re in a very formal situation and have to excuse yourself without giving a real reason, you can say I have a prior engagement.

However, more casual situations use a completely different sentence structure in English.

If you’re meeting friends then you say: I’m getting together with friends tonight, like at a café.

cafe

If you’re going to grab a beer with some colleagues, then you say: We’re getting beers after work, want to join us?

An appointment in both of these instances sounds stuffy and proper.

You can use a general expression (I have plans) or you can be more precise about your plans.

I’m having dinner with a friend on Tuesday night, can we do Wednesday?

We’re going to the movies on Friday–do you want to join us?

We’re going biking on Saturday if the weather’s nice.

So..

Ik heb an afspraak. = I’ve got an appointment. I’m meeting someone. I have plans.

Bonus tip: Don’t want to say what you’re doing or where you’re going and you’re young (at heart)? Try “Got to go, I’ve got a thing (later).”

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Thanksgiving, food-wise

American Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November every year, while Canadian Thanksgiving falls about a month and a half earlier, on the second Monday in October.

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At least in the US, Thanksgiving is all about food. Fall is one of the best times of the year food-wise.  Anything -wise is a pretty hard expression for non native English speakers to master, so once you read through the explanation, you get a free Thanksgiving recipe to try as a little reward. You could just scroll down for the recipe, or you could stick it and out and try to learn a new expression. Ready?

Food-wise

Adding “-wise” behind nouns can mean “with reference to…” or “in terms of…” So “food-wise” means “with reference to food/in terms of food.” That’s a pretty awkward expression, which is why we just say “food-wise.” This is spoken English, not formal, written English and is useful when another construction would sound strange. There is no one rule that can tell you when you can use it–it is just a feeling that you have to develop.

I’m doing terribly bad homework-wise. (I’m doing badly with my homework.)

There’s nothing around downtown dinner-wise. (There’s nothing to eat that would be suitable for dinner.)

I’ve made no progress job-wise. (I’ve still got no prospects for my job search.)

What’s he like, appearance-wise? (What does he look like?)

They all kept up with me, drinking-wise. (They could all drink as much as me.)

Did I do the right thing etiquette-wise? (Did I behave properly?)

He seems ok, health-wise. (His health seems ok.)

Here are some other uses of “wise” that are common enough to be one word (no hyphen):

clockwise (“in the direction of a clock”) and counter-clockwise

likewise (similarly)

piecewise (“in pieces”)

Now, for the food

One of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes is for cranberry sauce. Cranberry sauce is a delicious accompaniment for meat, not only for turkey, but for any wild game in the fall. You can buy this in cans in the US, and when it comes out it looks something like this:

cannedcranberrysauce

Mmm, appetizing, no? No? Well, it does get better. You can also make your own cranberry sauce that is 100 times tastier (if only because it doesn’t come out of a can).

The following recipe is easy and delicious. You can buy fresh cranberries (from Maine!) at the Albert Heijn this time of year. Try it out and let me know what you think.

cranberries

Fresh cranberry sauce

1. one 340g bag of fresh cranberries

2. 3/4 cup – 1 cup white sugar (175-225g, depending on your sweet tooth)

3. juice and zest of 1 orange

4. 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (optional)

5. a good pour of kirsch (45-60ml)–if you don’t have it, use grand marnier or even rum to great effect 🙂

Put the cranberries and sugar in a saucepan. Zest the orange (grate the rind of the orange into the pan, like this) and then squeeze the orange juice into the pan (don’t add the seeds to the pan though). Add the freshly grated ginger if you like ginger. Turn the stove on medium-high until it starts simmering and then turn it down to low. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries have popped. Add the kirsch near the end of the cooking time.

The sauce will thicken as it cools, so don’t worry if it’s a bit thin when you turn off the stove.

Enjoy!

Vocabulary to remember:

a sweet tooth: a craving for sweet things (“I’ve got a sweet tooth.”)

the rind: the hard outer layer of fruit, cheese, bacon, etc.

to zest: when you scrape off the rind of a citrus fruit in small pieces (you can zest a lemon or an orange, but not a kiwi or a banana, yuck!)

to pour: when liquid streams out of a container. a good pour means that you should pour the liquid directly into the pan in the amount you like. You don’t have to measure it, just “eye it”(~guess/estimate the amount that you think is right)

the stove: also called the cooker or the cooktop, this is the hot gas or electric burner that you put the pan on.

simmer: to cook gently at a slow boil, or just below the boiling point. You should see bubbles coming up, but only few and slowly.

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Trick or Treat

Halloween

You can’t be in the US without celebrating Halloween it seems, one way or another. Whether it’s going to a Halloween party with friends or sitting on your doorstep handing out candy to the kids who come by, Halloween is a pretty big deal for adults as well as children. There’s dressing up for the adults and trick-or-treating for the kids.

When you’re a kid, it’s fun to dress up and there’s a point that you can really believe that the spaghetti you’re putting your hands into is really human intestines, that the peeled grapes are human eyeballs. That haunted house really was scary at some point! (and maybe it still is…)

haunted house

And you know what was really scary? Taking a night time hayride and having crazy men jump out of the woods at you, screaming and brandishing chainsaws. Yes, that’s what we did in Texas. Terrifying.

Here is some vital vocabulary for talking about Halloween:

1. Pumpkins

As an adult, I would prefer to eat them rather than carve them and watch them rot, but still. Carving pumpkins was fun as a kid. Carved pumpkins, or jack-o-lanterns are lit from the inside with a small candle and can be put in your window or outside your front door. It makes for a nice effect on the street, especially when the carvings aren’t too scary.

pumpkin1

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2. Dressing up

Who doesn’t love to dress up? You’ve got to admit, babies are especially cute in their little pumpkin costumes.  You can do something crazy or just go for a traditional toned-down witch costume, like this one:

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3. Trick-or-treating

You basically go from door-to-door and ask people for candy, except that the magic word is no longer “please” but “if you don’t give me candy, I’ll play a (practical) joke on you/I’ll trick you.” And that’s what “Trick or Treat” means. It’s not very nice stuff, is it?

trick or treat

You can even sing:

Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat

Give me something good to eat!

Happy Halloween!

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