vocabulary


I realize it’s been a long time between posts.  My life has been particularly busy this semester.  Anyway, thanks to all of you who have posted with encouragement and questions… I guess someone out there really is reading!

So, now that I’m back I’d like to answer a couple questions from Can Duman, who according to his blog appears to be from Turkey.

Can asked how Americans generally use the word “nasty”.  Here’s my answer and also some tips on finding how native speakers usually use words.

Here is the dictionary definition, but Can has also asked how Americans generally use it.

“Nasty” is often used to talk about a sickness or injury with the meaning of “severe” and/or “disgusting”

He has a nasty cold.

He fell and got a nasty cut.

“Nasty” can also be used to talk about the weather with the meaning of “severe”

It has been a nasty winter.

That was a nasty storm last night.

“Nasty” can also be used to describe communication between people with the meaning of “very rude”

That was a nasty thing to say.

Her neighbor left a nasty note on her door.

All of the meanings above are negative.

However, in the context of sports “nasty” is sometimes used as slang with the positive meaning of “very effective”, especially against an opponent.

The pitcher throws a nasty curveball.

The boxer was knocked out by a nasty punch.

I hope this helps for understanding common usage of this word.

In general, if you want to find out how a word is commonly used by native English speakers. I would suggest using Google News.  Search for the word that you are interested in and you will get a list of current news articles using that word in context.  Here is what I got when I searched for “nasty“.

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I’ve been away quite a while… I got swallowed up at the end of the semester, was home for a few weeks, and just finished an English camp here on campus. The kids are fun, but I’m glad I teach university students 🙂

Now, for a new entry based on a comment from my about page. (If you are reading this blog and have a question, please leave a comment or send an email. I’ll do my best to answer it.)

When “at large” is used together it has a special meaning. It is often used to talk about criminals or wild animals that are out in the public and not caught:

The criminals who robbed the bank remain at large. (They haven’t been caught yet.)

The tiger that escaped from the zoo is still at large.

It is often used with the verb “remain” or the adverb “still”. If a person or animal is at large, people are trying to catch them.

“At large” can also have a different meaning. When “at large” is used after a title or position it means “among the people” or “not limited to a specific area or district”.

  • A “reporter at large” is a reporter that travels around and reports from “among the people”. They do not have a certain story that they have to report about.
  • An “ambassador at large” does not work at 1 country, but instead deals with 1 problem.
  • A “delegate at large” is elected from people of an entire state or area – as opposed to smaller districts

Finally, when “at large” is used after a group of people, it means “in general”

The people at large did not trust the new government.

Many students don’t know about the world at large.

Any more questions? Please let me know.

This is translated directly from Korean: “매운 음식을 잘 먹어요”

The grammar is correct. The problem is we don’t say this in English. It sounds very strange. In English we would say, “Do you like to eat spicy food?” or “Can you eat a lot of spicy food?”

To answer the question, you could say, “Yes, I like to eat spicy food.” or “Yes, I can eat a lot of spicy food.”

To answer “no” you might say, “No, I can’t handle spicy food.” or “No, spicy food doesn’t agree with me.”

When used in this way, handle means to endure a situation or circumstance. It is usually used negatively, with “not.”

He couldn’t handle the roller coaster. It made him sick.

You can’t handle truth.

The idiom “not agree with” is used with food. It means that the food makes you sick or nauseous. It is only used negatively, with “not.”

The fish I ate last night didn’t agree with me. I was up all night.

This restaurant’s chili doesn’t agree with me. It always gives me diarrhea.

What do the verbs coach, cook, and model have in common?

They are all exceptions to the rule that you add -er or -or to talk about the person who performs the action of the verb. I know that sounds confusing, so let’s look at some examples:

  • act -> a person who acts is an actor
  • love –> a person who loves is a lover
  • teach -> a person who teaches is a teacher
  • write -> a person who writes is a writer

This pattern (adding -er to talk about the person) is very common with action verbs. Now, let’s look at the exceptions:

  • coach -> a person who coaches is a coach (NOT coacher)
  • cook -> a person who cooks is a cook (NOT cooker)
  • model -> a person who models is a model (NOT modeler)

Don’t be confused that the noun and the verb look the same. Here are some example sentences…

My mother is a great cook. (“cook” is a noun)

Do you know how to cook? (“cook” is a verb)

The parents didn’t like how the coach was coaching the team. (“coach is a noun”, but “was coaching” is a verb)

She wanted to model, but she was too short. (“model” is a verb form used in an infinitive)

She wanted to be a model, but she was too short. (“model” is a noun used as the object of “to be”)

If you can think of any other verbs that don’t add -er, please leave a comment!  These are the only common verbs I could think of and I could not find a list on the internet.

I’m sure you are familiar with the phrasal verbs turn on and turn off. There is, however, another phrasal verb, go off, which can be quite confusing to ESL students.

When talking about an alarm, go off  means to start working (by making a loud noise).

I set my alarm to go off at 7am this morning.

I woke up when the smoke alarm went off.

I was late to class because my alarm didn’t go off.

When your alarm goes off, you should turn it off quickly so it doesn’t wake anyone else up.

Go off can also be used to talk about a gun firing or a bomb exploding.

While he dropped the gun, it went off.

Don’t play with the gun, it might go off.

The bomb went off in the middle of the night.

Finally, go off  on can be used idiomatically to mean “become very upset and start yelling”.

His wife went off on him because he had forgotten her birthday.

The boss went off on his secretary for being late to work again.

I have had to explain this to several of my friends here. Apparently, they don’t have family reunions in Korea.

As you know, the United States is much bigger than Korea. Also, families are usually bigger in America than Korea. It is also more common for people to move away from their families for school or work. Since families are bigger and family members often live far away from each other, they can not always meet together during the holidays. As a result, many families often have a family reunion.

A family reunion is a big party for all of the family to meet. Family reunions are usually held in the summer. The family will usually rent a park pavilion for the day. All of the family members meet to eat (usually a barbecue or a potluck), talk, and play games.

I haven’t updated this blog recently as I’ve been on vacation.  This is American English.  The phrase used in British English is on holiday.  In American English, a holiday is a special day such as Christmas or Thanksgiving.

In American English, we often refer to the time between school semesters as a break.

What did you do during winter break?

Do you have any plans for summer break?

The phrase take a break is also commonly used to mean relax or stop working.

You should take a break after you study for an hour to stretch and rest your eyes.

She was so busy she didn’t have time to take a break for lunch.

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