Tag Archives: English expressions

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.

english course utrecht

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

pumpkin2

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:

english lessons utrecht

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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Could you care less? | Macmillan

Grammar frequently doesn’t make sense. When you find yourself asking why, the answer is usually “that’s the way it has evolved.”

Macmillan Dictionary Blog has taken on the question of the logic of grammar and expressions in one of their recent posts Could you care less?

“We make the rules; they don’t spring from some utopian realm of transcendent consistency.”

via Could you care less? | Macmillan.

What I love about this post is that Macmillan argues that expressions don’t have to make sense. “I could care less,” one of those expressions that doesn’t make sense at all, actually means “I couldn’t care less” (read: I don’t care at all).

Why? Because everyone started using it that way.

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August 26, 2013 · 12:00 pm

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.

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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.

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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

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