Tag Archives: English expressions

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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artsy fartsy

english expressions

artsy-fartsy (arty-farty in British English)

So popular it’s even on a t-shirt–if you aren’t using this expression you’re missing out! Just pronouncing it makes me smile, so naturally I think it’s high time that artsy fartsy makes its way to our little froggy land.

Caution: Don’t use this around your true artist friends if you don’t want to offend them.

1. A person who talks about high art or cultural things in a pretentious way. The rest of us think he’s silly or boring.
Rob’s friends were a couple of artsy-fartsy types who talked endlessly about the decline of the modern American novel.
2. A thing that is supposedly highly cultural, but to the regular sane person merely pretentious.
ABSTRACT ARTIST: This old boot stuck to a canvas represents fading life and lost integrity…. 
TEENAGER: Uh, yeah, dude, it’s just an artsy fartsy old boot.
If someone is artsy, they are interested in art or maybe even a budding artist. It’s not necessarily negative.
However, artsy-fartsy is a derogative term to describe art or people who are connected to art. It’s not a nice thing to say to a real artist.
Find more definitions of informal language and expressions at urbandictionary.com

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dark and stormy

It was a dark and stormy night…

This is the cliché beginning to all scary stories in English–the “Once upon a time” equivalent for scary stories, usually those with no happy ending.

English Writing Expressions

I started using this expression in my writing courses when we talk about reader expectations. Why this expression? Because some words are used together so commonly in English that you automatically fill them in, even before you read them. “Dark and stormy night” is a widely recognized example of this phenomenon.

Google uses this same concept when it tries to guess what you are searching for and fills in the end of your phrase in the search box.

If you’re interested in language learning, then you have probably heard that learning how words are commonly used together is a more effective technique for advanced learners than learning individual words. These are called collocations and they can be useful in writing as well.

For example “dark” frequently goes with “night”, so we frequently hear “a dark night”. This collocation seems pretty self-evident.

Or so I thought…

Because this is such a common expression, I expected the students to be able to guess the ending quickly and easily.

It was a dark and stormy _______________.

However, I was in for a surprise. Usually, at least one student in a group answers “day! It was a dark and stormy day!” in all seriousness.

What I hadn’t considered is that some of the collocations we have in English aren’t necessarily as strong when you live in a place with an unusual climate. Where I’m from, dark goes with night and light/bright goes with day. During the day, the sun shines.

Here in the Netherlands, however, days are more frequently dark and stormy. For a Dutch student, a dark and stormy day makes perfect sense. For me, well, it is starting to make sense too!

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Give it a go

learn english expressions

Give it a go is a fabulous expression, used to encourage someone to make an effort or attempt something or to say that you are going to try something. It is frequently used in the context of something you have never tried before or are hesitant about trying.

This expression implies that you should try (give) something (it) just once (a go) to find out if you like it or can do it.

You’re not artistic? You should still try making pottery–you may just end up liking it! Go on, give it a go!

Why don’t you give it a go and see if you like it.

-Want to learn Chinese?
-Well, I’ll give it a go!


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It’s high time

It’s high time to write about another beautiful expression that you can start using to make your English sound more natural.

I can attest to the fact that you hear “it’s high time…” a lot in the South! It’s a casual expression that you can use to impress the natives with your ability to speak English as they speak it. As you might have guessed, “high time” originally refers to noon (“high noon“–perhaps you recognize this phrase from Western movies?).


  • It was high time she forgot about men and worked on bolstering her independent spirit with a return to California.
  • Then it’s high time we put it away once and for all.
  • I can’t see that stuff without thinking it’s high time someone did something.
  • We thought it was high time to give you some vital info on this trend among men.

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high time english expressions

english expressions

So, what does this expression mean?

It means: “It should have happened a long time ago.”


“This thing is long overdue.”

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Birthdays in the Netherlands

Today is my birthday, hoera! How we talk about and celebrate birthdays can differ quite widely it seems.  What do you say to a birthday boy or girl?

Don’t say “Congratulations!” when your English-speaking friend has a birthday, say “Happy Birthday!” Reserve “Congratulations” for when someone gets a promotion or graduates. Congratulations implies achieving some success, and for some strange reason we English speakers don’t consider getting older an achievement. I don’t know why!

Happy Birthday English

In the Netherlands it is traditional to throw your own party/bring your own cake. This goes by the name of “traktatie” which is when you make or buy your own cake and bring it to work/school. “Ik trakteer!” means you treat the rest of the office to your birthday, they don’t treat you because it’s your birthday. Today, I am looking forward to treating my students in true Dutch fashion. I made these and they are delicious!  In the US, however, friends and family usually throw you a party and provide you with cake.

The jury is still out on which I like better! At least when you make the cake yourself, you always get what you want!


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Open House

Today marks an “Open huizen dag” in Utrecht, organized twice yearly across the country. It means “Open House Day”- one of the (many) times that a word for word translation serves you reasonably well. Participating sellers open up their homes to everyone on this day, no appointment needed, in the hopes of finding a buyer. Likewise, those looking to buy a house get on their bicycles and pedal around the city knocking on doors of participating houses.

This is what their flyer looks like:  English Utrecht

Interestingly, while the Netherlands organizes national open house days, I have never seen this on such a large scale in the US. Usually individuals decide when to have an open house entirely of their own accord, not in cooperation with any other homes in their area. This might differ from city to city. Personally, I think a national open house day is a fabulous phenomenon: you can look at a lot of houses in four hours!

You might talk about Open House Day like this:

“We’re having an open house this Saturday.”

“We’re visiting a lot of open houses this Saturday.”

“Sorry, we can’t go away that weekend, it’s Open House weekend! We have to go see houses!”

Open House is also used in another very common context, at least in the US. The evening that parents are invited to the children’s school to see what pictures the kid has made, have a chat with the teachers, and find out what the kid is learning– “Ouderavond” — is also called Open House. During an open house, the (elementary) school opens up its doors to parents.

“I have to leave work on time tonight because my kid’s school is having an open house.”

Notice that in both contexts we say having an open house if you are the one giving it.

Enjoy all the open houses today!

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