There are a ton of phrases that native English speakers use without a second thought. Most are self-explanatory, but there are plenty of common expressions that tend to trip up (or “confuse”) language learners.
- How do I put this?
- Let’s get this over with.
- Don’t be so hasty.
- Let me put your mind at ease.
- It’s not my place to say anything, (but)
- Hold that thought.
- I am inclined to say…
- How are you holding up?
- How is it going? = How are you? = What’s up? = How are you doing?
- What do you have in mind?
When you have to reject or cancel something:
- Call (something) off
- I’m afraid I need to turn you down = I can’t accept your offer
- I’ll pass, thanks.
- I’m not that into (something) = I’m not interested in it
- I’m good = I’m all set = I don’t need anything.
When you want to praise someone:
- You nailed it!
- You killed it!
- Way to go!
- Well done! = Great job!
- You deserve all the credit
- Wow, you’re on fire!
- You got this = You can do it!
- We’re rooting for you = we believe you can do it
- Don’t beat yourself up = don’t blame or criticize yourself unfairly
- Hang in there = don’t give up, keep going.
Phrases that are easy to mix up:
- One-to-one VERSUS one-on-one
- One-to-one refers to a one-to-one relationship, like a ratio in mathematics
- One-on-one refers to a one-on-one meeting or chat with someone
- On time VERSUS in time
- On time refers to punctuality. For example, your event starts at 8 pm and you arrive at 8pm. You’re right on time!
- In time refers more to having enough time to do something. For example, if you want to catch a flight, you have to get there in time. So, if you don’t get to the airport on time, you won’t be in time to get through security and board your flight before it takes off!
- In the end VERSUS At the End
- In the end usually means “finally.” For example, “Even though she worried about it all night, she passed the test with flying colors in the end.”
- At the end is usually more specific and often refers to a specific position. For example, “At the end of the day, we all want the same thing” or “The show got pretty scary at the end!”
If things are not going well:
- He’s washed-up = his career is over
- She is doomed = she is likely to have an unfortunate outcome
- What a bummer = that is a pity or shame
- That really bugs me = that really bothers me, I don’t like that
- He gets on my nerves = he annoys me
If there is not a lot of time left:
- We’re in a bit of a time crunch.
- We’re running out of time.
- We need to rush = We need to hurry.
- From the get go = from the beginning
- The onset (of something) = the beginning (of something)
- I’m in the middle of (something) = I am doing something right now.
Phrases you might use on the phone:
- I’m hanging up now = I’m ending the call.
- Put him on speakerphone.
- I should get going = we should end the call (this suggests that you have other things to do with your time)
- We have to hit the road = we should leave now (usually refers to people who need to drive far away)
There are a few words with lots of different meanings that are all used pretty often:
- “Settle down” = calm yourself down, relax
- “Settled down” = also means to begin to live a quiet and steady life by getting a regular job, getting married, etc
- “Settle in” = get used to. For example, “Are you all settled into your new house?”
- Put up with: Tolerate something, often used in negative sentences. For example, “You never clean the dishes! I can’t put up with it anymore!”
- Put something in(to) perspective: this is a tricky concept, but it basically means to objectively understand something better. It’s like looking at a small puzzle piece and seeing where it fits in the puzzle as a whole. “You can put your worries into perspective when you realize how many people in the world are so much worse off than you.”
- Put down (an object): place something down. For example, “Let me put my backpack down first and then I’ll come help you prepare dinner” or “Make sure to put your name down on your paper before you forget!”
- Put down (a person): make someone feel bad. For example, “Don’t put yourself down like that. You did the best you could.”
- Have something (usually an animal) put down: this usually means to put something down in a humane/peaceful way. For example, “Our dog was really old and sick and she wasn’t getting better. The vet had to put her down.”
- Put (a child) down: lay them to rest. “It’s bedtime. I’m going to go put down the baby.”
- “Come across (something)” = to find unexpectedly. For example, “My notebook has been missing for a few days. If you come across it, could you let me know?”
- “Come up” = something that occurs a few times. For example, “When I talk to my old neighbors, my mom’s famous dinner parties come up a lot.”
- “I have come up with a great plan” = I thought of a great plan.
- “Come on in.” = Please enter (usually when someone knocks on your door)
- Pick on: being mean to someone for no good reason. “They pick on Billy because he has a Ninja Turtles backpack.
- Pick up: to understand or learn something quickly. “If you want to learn to play to guitar, you can pick it up easily by watching YouTube tutorials.
- Pick up: to flirt or get together with someone romantically. “He used to hang out at the grocery store and try to pick up women all day.
- Pick up: to continue. “Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday.” Teachers often say this at the beginning of a new lesson.
Phew, that was a lot and I’m nowhere near down. If you *come across* any other common but tricky phrases, please do share them!