Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights (phrasal verbs – part one)

(Level A2 and above: 12 common phrasal verbs – with stories, exercises, and songs)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.

Honeymoon Story

When they found out they had to fill in all these forms, Jill and Peter gave up on the idea that they should get married. After all, they just wanted to look after each other, put on some weight and be happy together for the rest of their lives. They were not looking for an official contract to confirm their love. They decided, however, to still go away and have their honeymoon (voyage de noce) in the Canary Islands, which they had organised a long time ago. Before setting off, they invited a lot of people for a honeymoon party. They closed down their flower shop, turned up the music, took off their shoes, and danced all night. Two days later, they flew to the Canaries, not knowing the volcano in La Palma was about to go off

12 phrasal verbs

There are 12 phrasal verbs in this story. There are thousands of phrasal verbs (verbes à particule) in the English language. Many phrasal verbs have several meanings. They are very commonly used, especially in more informal contexts.

You probably already know many phrasal verbs such as; sit down, stand up, wake up, get up, and call back.

What is a phrasal verb?

A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and a particle.

It can be:

  1. a verb and an adverb, such as break down (The car broke down just outside Winchester)
  2. a verb and a preposition, such as see to (You try to get some sleep, I’ll see to the children’s breakfast)
  3. a verb and both, such as look down on (She looks down on anyone who hasn’t had a university education)

Here are the 12 phrasal verbs from the Honeymoon Story (above):

  1. Go off
  • to explode or to stop working (All the lights in the building suddenly went off)
  • to leave a place (Dave’s gone off to the south of France for the summer)
  • to start making a noise (I was just lying in bed waiting for the alarm to go off)
  1. Set off
  • to start a journey (We set off early the next morning)
  • to cause something to operate (Jeff pushed open the front door, which set off the alarm)
  • to cause a situation to happen (He fears that the election could set off mass protests)
  1. Give up
  • to stop doing something that you do regularly (He finally gave up smoking)
  • to stop thinking or believing something (It was a difficult time, but we never gave up hope)
  1. Close down
  • same as close (Their intention is to close down the factory)
  1. Turn up
  • to increase the amount of sound, heat, or light by pressing a button or moving a switch (Don’t turn the TV up – I’m trying to read)
  • to come somewhere, especially unexpectedly (There is no need to book – just turn up on the night)
  • to be found after being lost (The documents finally turned up in an office along the corridor)
  1. Go away
  • to move or travel away from a person or place (If he’s bothering you, tell him to go away)
  • to leave your home for a period of time, especially for a holiday (We’ve decided to go away for a long weekend)
  • verb and particle are never separated
  1. Look for
  • to hope to get something that you want or need (He was looking for work as a builder)
  • to search for someone or something (I’m looking for Jim. Have you seen him?)
  • verb and particle are never separated.
  1. Fill in
  • to add information such as your name or address in the empty spaces on an official document (I spent over two hours filling in the application form)
  • to give someone details about something (Did Sam fill you in about the new project?)
  • to do someone’s job for them while they are away (I’m filling in for the receptionist at the moment)
  1. Find out
  • to discover a fact or piece of information (Her parents found out that she had a boyfriend)
  1. Put on
  • to start wearing something (Peter put on his coat and went out / Melanie was putting on her makeup in front of the mirror)
  • to make a machine or piece of equipment start working, especially by pressing a switch (Can you put the light on, please?)
  • to become fatter (She put a lot of weight on after the children were born)
  1. Take off
  • To remove clothing (I’d better take my shoes off)
  • if an aircraft takes off, it leaves the ground and starts flying (The plane should take off on time)
  • to become successful or popular very fast (Her business has really taken off)
  • to have a particular amount of time away from work (I’m taking Monday off to go to London)
  1. Look after
  • to take care of someone or something (It’s hard work looking after three children all day)
  • to be responsible for something (an organization that looks after the interests of artists)




Bob Marley – Get up stand up (with lyrics)


Gloria Estefan – Go Away



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Your turn!

Exercise 1

Put in the missing particle in the text. Choose from the list.

off (x3)             in         out       up        away    on        up        after


The really anxious guide to home safety

If you want to go …… for your summer holiday, check a few things before you set …… : turn off the gas as you don’t want everything your own to go …… and destroy your house (and your street); have someone fill …..  for you at work while you take time ….. if you don’t want your company to go bankrupt (faire faillite) and close down; look … ..someone to look ….. your plants if you don’t want them to give up the ghost (die); find ….. if you can put ….. a reliable alarm system if you don’t want a visit from the burglars (cambrioleurs) – or just hide your jewellery in a hole under the house; and ask a friend to turn ….. at your house at unexpected times to ensure no one is having a big party or squatting there. I know, this is hard work. But what do you prefer? Home safety or a relaxing holiday?

Answer key:

If you want to go away for your summer holiday, check a few things before you set off: turn off the gas as you don’t want everything you own to go off and destroy your house (and your street); have someone fill in for you at work while you take time off if you don’t want your company to go bankrupt and close down; look for someone to look after your plants if you don’t want them to give up the ghost (die); find out if you can put on a reliable alarm system if you don’t want a visit from the burglars (cambrioleurs) – or just hide your jewellery in a hole under the house; and ask a friend to turn up at your house at unexpected times to ensure no one is having a big party or squatting there. I know, this is hard work. But what would you rather have? Home safety or a relaxing holiday?


Exercise 2


This is a more difficult exercise.

Put in the missing phrasal verbs in the gaps. Choose from the list.

Note: sometimes you will have to conjugate the phrasal verb in the past simple.


Go off              put on              look for            close down      wake up           take off

Fill in                set off              go away           find out            look after        turn up

Give up


Little did I know …

My alarm ….. at 6 a.m. this morning and I ….. for work at 7. Little did I know (je ne savais pas) about my incredible day then.

I arrived at work only to ….. my company had ….. overnight. I checked my phone and saw an email from my company, saying they had serious financial difficulties. I was totally confused and really angry. But I did not ….. hope.  I went to the newsagent and ….. a lottery ticket, thinking, “what’s the worst that could happen?” I went home, ….. my work clothes and ….. my sports clothes because I wanted to ….. for the day and spend it at the gym. I thought: “I am going to ….. my health. That way, I will stay busy and positive. I will look for a new job later. I’m sure it won’t be a problem, now that I have decided to be optimistic.”

In the evening, I ….. my lottery ticket everywhere. I  just could not find it. I didn’t feel very optimistic then, thinking this was just an all-around horrible day. Then, the lottery ticket ….. in the pocket of my work jacket. I immediately checked the results of the lottery and found I had won the jackpot! Little did I know about my incredible day when I ….. that morning.


Answer key:

My alarm went off at 6 a.m. this morning and I set off for work at 7. Little did I know about my incredible day then.

I arrived at work only to find out my company had closed down overnight. I checked my phone and saw an email from my company, saying they had to suffered too many financial difficulties. I was totally confused and really angry. But I did not give up hope.  I went to the newsagent and filled in a lottery ticket, thinking, “what’s the worst that could happen?” I went home, took off my work clothes and put on my sports clothes because I wanted to go away for the day and spend it at the gym. I thought: “I am going to look after my health. That way, I will stay busy and positive. I will look for a new job later. I’m sure it won’t be a problem, now that I have decided to be optimistic.”

In the evening, I looked for my lottery ticket everywhere. I  just could not find it. I didn’t feel very optimistic then, thinking this was just an all-around horrible day. Then, the lottery ticket turned up in the pocket of my work jacket. I immediately checked the results of the lottery and found I had won the jackpot! Little did I know about my incredible day when I woke up that morning.


Jason Mraz – Look For The Good (with lyrics)



With some phrasal verbs, you can separate the verb and the particle:

They’ve called the meeting off (to call of= to cancel)


They’ve called off the meeting.


And with other phrasal verbs, you never separate the verb and the particle:

Look for your keys. Not: Look your keys for.


A fish out of water

Level A2 and above

There are lots of expressions in English that involve fish (poisson). They are informal expressions.

But they can be used to make your conversations more colorful and interesting.


Like a fish out of water

This expression or metaphor is self-explanatory. Fish are comfortable or “at home” in water, not like humans.

When a fish is “out of water” is cannot survive for very long. This expression means to be uncomfortable (out of your comfort zone) and not knowing what to do or say.

When they all started talking about their bonuses, I felt like a fish out of water. I had never received a bonus in my life.

 At the concert I felt like a fish out of water. Everyone around me was the age of my daughter.

I come from a small village in the Swiss alps. When go to the city, I sometimes feel like a fish out of water

The expression can be traced back to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. He wrote:

…a monk, when he is cloisterless;
Is like to a fish that is waterless


Here’s a fish out of water – BBC David Attenborough:


A big fish in a small pond

A person who is important and powerful in a small group of people is a big fish in a small pond.

We often talk about the transition from primary school to high school. In the last year of primary school, pupils are big fish in a small pond. At high school they will be small fish in a bog pond.

She was a big fish in small pond in the small company. That all changed when she joined an international company. Then she was a small fish in a big pond.


That smells fishy

Fish have a strong smell. After a few days, it’s a not a very nice smell.

If something smells fishy, there is something strange, suspect or suspicious. Maybe it’s illegal or criminal.

It took some time before people realised there was something very fishy about the investor Madoff.

Read more about Madoff here

The manager smelled something fishy and started an investigation. He discovered that three of the four employees were stealing from the store.

We think the business deal is fishy. We have decided to not go ahead with it.


To fish for a compliment

The verb to fish is the activity of fishing and involves using a hook and line to catch fish.

When you fish for a compliment, you try to catch a compliment. You try to get someone to say something nice about you.

When I do a good job, I like to receive positive feedback. My boss never says anything, I always have to fish for compliments.

My boyfriend said nothing about my new haircut. I think he is blind. I always have to fish for a compliment.


There’s plenty more fish in the sea

This expression is often used to console or comfort someone, especially at the end of a romantic relationship that has failed or ended badly.

It means that there are other suitable choices and opportunities to be found.

I know you are sad about John leaving you, but there are plenty more fish in the sea.

I really wanted that job. I am so disappointed. I suppose there are plenty more fish in the sea. I must stay positive.


Language note:

The word fish is often used for both singular and plural. The word fishes can also be used in the plural form.

At an aquarium: Look at all the colorful fishes or fish.

However, the meat of fish is always unaccountable.

In a restaurant: I think I’ll have the fish.

Humanity… we’ve got your tests back. Not looking so good, I’m afraid.

The Cosmic Medical Centre was busy, but Humanity had to wait just five minutes before the nurse called them.

“Humanity? Earth, isn’t it? This way please.”

The nurse opened the door and there, behind a solid oak desk, the cosmic doctor looked up, peering through his bi-focals.

“Aaah, yes, we’ve been expecting you Humanity. Please sit down. We’ve got all your tests back. Not looking so good, I’m afraid. Sit, sit please…

“Hypertension, anxiety, stress and depression. Middle age and its aches and pains have come quickly to you Humans. Faster than most species.  Millions of years faster. The dinosaurs make your look like amateurs. By the way, your fertility has dropped considerably, probably a result of the above. This current pandemic probably doesn’t help.

“A change of lifestyle would be good, but unfortunately as you know,” he paused, and looked up at the patient, “it’s rather difficult to change your genetic predisposition.”

You have such an odd sense of superiority


“Impossible, actually,” the doctor smiled, paused and then continued, “…despite your fantastical efforts. You are blessed and cursed. You are conscious, unlike most of your fellow life forms. But still, more than a touch conceited to imagine that you can shape your own future. You are just current in the drift of genes, just like all the other life forms that come here. You have such an odd sense of superiority. You come in here calling yourself Humanity. Do you think the frogs and the cows have a collective belief that they can take charge of their destiny? There is no such thing as Humanity, nor is there Frogity or Cowity. Just another of your many misguided myths.


Do you really think the lottery you call Progress and Science can free you from the life of an animal?


“You know you were once animists who shared a common destiny with the other animals and now you think you are in charge, of not only your own destiny, but also that of the Earth. I mean, really, do you think the lottery you call Progress and Science can free you from the life of an animal?”

The doctor raised his hand. “No, I don’t want to hear anything from you. Not yet.”

“You know, we had Earth in last week for a complete examination. There was long list of ailments; excessive gas, heat rashes, breathing difficulties, hot and cold flushes, dry surfaces, artery poisoning and loss of surface vegetation.

“We traced all these disorders back to one cause: you. Yes, you.”

Humanity shifted uneasily in its chair. The doctor raised his hand again.


You have infected your host. You have become a pathogenic organism like the cells of a tumour. Or a virus, if you like.


“No, it’s my turn to speak. You have infected your host. You have become, for want of a better term, a pathogenic organism like the cells of a tumour. Or a virus, if you like.

“Look here’s the report here: Read the first line. Read it for yourself.”

The doctor thrust the paper in front of Humanity’s eyes. Humanity began to read: “The Earth (solar system B-1873HGFY74) is suffering from a plague of humans.

“Yes, a plague, that’s right,” the doctor said.

“Your population is now around 7.8 billion. It has doubled in less than 50 years. Honestly, it’s not the numbers that are the problems. It’s your predatory and destructive abilities.

“We’ve already got a name for the next geological period – the Eremozoic – the era of solitude when little remains on the earth. Basically, you’ve killed it all. It’s sad, but understandable that you’re all getting rather obsessed with space.

We call it a correction. You might call it Armageddon.


“But before that new epoch rolls in, you are most likely going to suffer considerably. We call it a correction. You might call it Armageddon.

“Population spikes don’t rise forever. You just have to look at mice and rabbits. The collapse, when it comes, will occur over a relatively short period of time, but will see your population fall to one or two billion at the most.

“You know you cannot destroy the Earth, but you can easily wreck the environment that sustains you and other life forms.”

Humanity slumped in its chair, then raised its head: “How long have we”…


It’s not always about you


The doctor cut Humanity off with a deep sigh and hand in the air. “You haven’t been listening, have you? It’s not always about you.”

A silence.

“What can we do then?”

“Not much really,” the doctor replied.

“Perhaps give up the idea that progress will somehow preserve your oblivion. Being idle is not a sin. Try doing nothing sometimes. Stop pining for meaning in life. And stop pining for immortality. Sanity is in the stillness. It’s just life.”




Many of the ideas expressed in the above article come from the book, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and other Animals, by John Gray. He is an English political philosopher and author with interests in analytic philosophy and the history of ideas. He retired in 2008 as School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

His books include:

False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism (1998)

Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern (2003)

Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (2007)

The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (2013)

Put some sugar in your English

(Level A2 and above: Idioms and phrases related to sugar and honey – with songs)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.


Sprinkling (saupoudrer) some sugar on your English is a piece of cake. It can put the icing (glaçage) on the cake. And it’s as easy as pie. For example, you can call your loved ones “honey” or “sweetie” or “sugar”. You can say “isn’t it/he/she sweet?” or, “it was so sweet of you to do that” (sweet: sucré, doux, adorable).

After all, you can catch more flies (mouches) with honey than vinegar.

Do it in your own sweet time. Do it when you want to say something serious: as the proverb says, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine (médicament) go down. But be careful, too much sugar will make you as nutty as a fruitcake. You’ll start believing you are Mary Poppins. And if you do too much sweet talking, people will start to take what you say with a pinch (pincée) of salt. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. That’s a recipe (recette) for disaster.


George Harrison: My Sweet Lord





  1. A piece of cake – too easy.

The interview was a piece of cake.

  1. The icing on the cake / the frosting on the cake – If something is the icing on the cake, or the frosting on the cake, it makes a good situation or a good result even better.

I’m really happy playing here, and if we win today, that will be the icing on the cake.

  1. Easy as pie – very easy.

Michael understood at once. `Why, that’s easy as pie,’ he said as the rest of us scratched our heads.

  1. “Honey” – pet name. A pet name is an informal friendly name for a friend or member of your family.

Hi, honey, I’m home!

Have you seen the film “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”?

  1. “My sweet” – you can address someone as “sweetie” or “my sweet” if you are very fond of them.

Pass the sugar, sweetie.

Do you know the song “Sweet Home Alabama”?

  1. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar – you are more likely to get the results you want from other people if you treat them with kindness or flattery, rather than being aggressive, demanding.

I think the kids would visit you more if you were nicer to them. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, you know.

  1. In (one’s) own sweet time – At one’s own preferred pace, without consideration for how it will affect others.

He certainly took his own sweet time getting here.

  1. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down – something good makes something bad more tolerable.

I’m going to put on some fun music while I work on this boring project because a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.



  1. As nutty as a fruitcake – Very strange or completely mad.

The man is a charmer – intense, funny, and nutty as a fruitcake.

  1. Sweet talk – to talk to someone in a very nice way in order to persuade them to do something.

He even tried to sweet-talk the policewoman who arrested him.

  1. Take with a grain of salt / take with a pinch of salt – If you take what someone says with a grain of salt, or with a pinch of salt, you have serious doubts about the truth or accuracy of what they say.

“Listen,” he said, “you must take what Bob says with a grain of salt.”

  1. You can’t have your cake and eat it (too) – it’s impossible to have something both ways, if those two ways conflict.

He wants to stay with his wife but still see his girlfriend – talk about having your cake and eating it!

  1. A recipe for disaster – Something is a recipe for disaster if it’s going to cause trouble or serious problems.

The new parking rule is a recipe for disaster.




MORE idioms and expressions (B2+): Idioms are not a piece of cake



Zaska: In your own sweet time





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Can you walk a mile in my shoes?

(Level B2 and above: Reading about empathy – with quotes, phrases, vocabulary quiz, videos and songs)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.


Empathy is kind of a beautiful thing. When we are the recipient of empathy , it can be deeply engraved in our memory forever: our distress is acknowledged, without even an ounce of prejudice, judgement, self-interest, or pity. Empathy helps us back on our feet in record time. A problem shared is a problem halved, it is said. Empathy has the power of healing.

Empathy is quite beyond whether you deserve it or not; it is in neutral territory. It is about recognising another and thereby sharing her experience. And we all do it to a greater or lesser extent; it is part of our nature.

Mister Rogers, the creator and host of the U.S. preschool television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, which ran from 1968 to 2001, was a well-known empathetic (or empathic) figure. He said, “I think the best thing we can do is to let people know that each one of them is precious.”


Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers in the film: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


All words in bold are in the vocabulary quiz below 

What exactly is empathy?

Empathy is not to be confused with compassion and sympathy, which are often thought to involve more of a passive connection. Empathy generally involves a much more active attempt to understand another person.

Verywell Mind categorises empathy thus:

  • Affective empathy is the ability to respond to other people’s emotions appropriately.
  • Somatic empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. People sometimes physically experience what another person is feeling.
  • Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand someone’s response to a situation.

Apparently, empathy can also be expressed through self-control: If you feel empathy towards your future self, you will exercise self-control and not eat that chocolate cake today.

By definition, empathy is the opposite of apathy. Apathy is defined as “a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.” Furthermore, narcissists are known to often show a lack of empathy or pretend to be empathetic.

Related post: Lessons in narcissism with the stable genius Donald

Animals, such as elephants and even rats, are capable of feeling empathy toward each other. And dogs are man’s best friend thanks partly to their power of empathy.


Ben E. King – Stand By Me (with lyrics)


A learning curve

Empathy comes with time. We may show a little of it in childhood, but we grow to understand others better as our life experience and our self-knowledge expand.

We may also feel more empathy towards those we know than towards those we don’t.

The Guardian tells the story of a woman from Adelaide Hills, Raye Colbez, who did not feel sorry when she heard about the death of asylum seekers  who drowned near Christmas Island, in the north of Australia, in 2010. When asylum seekers moved to a detention centre not far from her home, she railed against it. But when she travelled to Africa and Malaysia to meet people hoping to find refuge in another country, her perspective changed.

“My empathy goes towards the people who are incarcerated with no future,” she said. “It made me feel as though I at least owed them more … There’s always two sides to a story so I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, I shouldn’t hop on the bandwagon and discriminate.”



Can you teach empathy?

Following the shocking news from the Australian political scene in March 2021, disgraced MP Andrew Laming  was ordered into “empathy training” by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Related post: Sick and shameful culture in the highest office in the land

From this sprung many commentaries on empathy training. Is it really possible to teach empathy?

Katherine Teh, managing director of consultancy Futureye, has for 19 years helped corporations and governments anticipate and understand community sentiment. “You can absolutely teach people empathy,” she told “I’m constantly learning skill sets in relation to it.” A lot of her courses are about how to listen properly, she added.

There is plenty of evidence that empathy can be taught in childhood, but it gets more complicated when it comes to adults, reports The Guardian. Some believe that there are some effective methods to teach adults to be more empathic, if it is taught as a skill – like teaching a new dance for example. But there is no guarantee such training methods work all the time, or in the long term.

The key is, you have to want to learn empathy – otherwise, the training efforts might go to waste. Employees who are forced by their boss to take an empathy training session may see it as punishment. This may result in a backlash.

But remembering a few key principles could help increase our empathy level, with practice: listen carefully, keep an open mind, no judgement, no prejudice, try to understand.


Watch this Ted video on empathy as a skill:

We are experiencing an empathy shortage but we can fix it together


A more empathetic world

What would a more empathetic world be like? On the micro level, those that have been dealt a bad hand might be better supported by their community. Violence, rape and even theft and mistreatment of animals would lessen.  On the macro level, well, one might imagine fewer wars and more diplomatic meetings; less self-interest among corporations and leaders; and a better management of the eco-system.


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Phrases related to empathy

  • To be in someone else’s shoes: to experience something from someone else’s point of view
  • From where I’m standing: from my point of view
  • Spare me a thought: think about me as well
  • I see where you’re coming from: I understand your situation
  • I feel for you: I understand your problem
  • If you have a problem, call me 24/7: call me anytime


Alanis Morissette – Empathy (with lyrics)


Quotes about empathy

  • When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you. Susan Sarandon, American actress
  • I’ve been fascinated by the idea that evil is the absence of empathy. John Connolly, Irish writer
  • Artificial intelligence is growing up fast, as are robots whose facial expressions can elicit empathy and make your mirror neurons quiver. Diane Ackerman, American poet
  • Negotiation is empathy. It’s almost trite to say that if you can’t put yourself in the seat of the other person you’re speaking with, you’re not going to do well. It’s not about being a bully, not about making offers people can’t refuse. Marc Randolph, American businessman
  • We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old – and that’s the criterion by which I’ll be selecting my judges. Barack Obama



Vocabulary Quiz

Match those 17 words from the text with their definition:

  1. Disgrace
  2. Acknowledge
  3. Record time
  4. Rail (against)
  5. Incarcerate
  6. Owe

a. (in this context) If you say that you owe someone gratitude, respect, or loyalty, you mean that they deserve it from you.

b. to express strong anger about something

c. very quickly, or in the fastest time recorded

d. the loss of other people’s respect because of something bad that you have done

e. to accept or admit that something exists, is true, or is real

f. to put someone in prison

Answer key: 1:d – 2:e – 3:c – 4:b – 5:f – 6:a


  1. Hop (or jump or climb) on the bandwagon
  2. Genuine
  3. Backlash
  4. Be dealt a bad hand
  5. Lessen

g. a strong, negative, and often angry reaction to something that has happened, especially a political or social change

h. to join or give support to a party or movement that seems to be assured of success

i. to become smaller in amount, level, importance etc

j. real, rather than pretended or false

k. if you get ‘dealt a bad hand’ it means you find yourself in unfavourable circumstances due to something you can’t control.

Answer key: 7:h – 8:j – 9:g – 10:k – 11:i


  1. Evil
  2. Elicit
  3. Quiver
  4. Trite
  5. Bully
  6. set one back on one’s feet


m. to shake with short quick movements

n. very bad or cruel behaviour

o. a trite remark is not interesting or original because it is what people usually say in that situation

p. (in this context) someone who uses their influence or status to threaten or frighten someone else in order to get what they want

q. to make someone react in the way that you want

r. To restore one to a stable position after a downturn or misfortune.

Answer key: 12:n – 13:q – 14:m – 15:o – 16:p – 17:r





It’s about time – and other time-related phrases

(Level B2 and above: English phrases with the word “time” – with reading, exercise, video, songs, quotes quiz and vocabulary quiz)

 Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.


“Time” is one of the most-used words in the English language.

We talk about time all the time. You can lose time, find time, save time, spend time, make time, take time, give time, call time and run out of time. You can even kill time. Kill another human you will most likely do time or serve time.

Time flies, time stand stills, time is on your side and time waits for no one. You can be on time, in time, out of time, behind time, from another time and ahead of time.

So, take the time to read this blog about time and, in your own time, you will be able to talk about time, at all times.

It’s a timely subject. Timeless you might say. It’s big time. Oh, and by the way, you reading about time on the website of Le Temps.



So, what is time?

In everyday language, time is the quantity that you measure using a clock (what time is it?), an amount of time (a long time), a period in history (the Roman times) or in life (his time at university), an experience (a good time), a moment (at the time of writing), and more.

There are a great many phrases and expressions using the word “time”. Here are just a few:


30 expressions with the word “time”


  1. Time spent planning is time well spenta good use of someone’s time.
  2. Things seem bad now but if you give it time, they might get better –wait, be patient.
  3. Here they are, and about time too – it’s overdue.
  4. They’ll be working against time to get it finished – do something quickly to finish on time.
  5. As an artist, he was years ahead of his timemore modern than others.
  6. Deal with each question separately, one at a timeseparately.
  7. She was fun to be with at timessometimes.
  8. These styles were a bit before my timeexisted before I was born.
  9. I’m afraid we’re out of timeno more time available.
  10. By the time we arrived, the other guests were already there – something has already happened.
  11. He did time for robbery – he was in prison.
  12. I still think of him from time to timesometimes.
  13. These days, I have all the time in the worlda lot of time available.
  14. We’ll have that fixed in no timevery soon, very quickly.
  15. In your own time, start the engine and put the car into gear – when you are ready.
  16. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt – it will definitely happen.
  17. I started cleaning the windows, just to kill timedo something instead of waiting.
  18. After the way Dave talked about me during the meeting, I wouldn’t give him the time of dayrefuse to speak to someone.
  19. The train was on timenot late.
  20. Things will get better over timegradually.
  21. We played cards to pass the timedo something instead of getting bored.
  22. Well, there’s a first time for everythingsomething is very strange or surprising.
  23. We get time and a half for working on Sundays – 50% more than the usual money that you earn.
  24. Let’s do it now, time is of the essenceshould be done as soon as possible.
  25. The good thing is, time is on your sideyou have a lot of time to do something.
  26. OK everyone, time’s up. Please turn in your spelling tests – no more time available to continue.
  27. Let’s do it now, time waits for no onedo something soon while the time is available.
  28. Time will tell whether he made the right choice – you will know in the future if something is true or right.
  29. You will feel better with timegradually.
  30. Barbara wasted no time in spreading the gossip – to do something immediately.


Source: MacmillanDictionary.comm


Read more about time:  During, while, for and since

It’s time we had a talk about time: during, while, for and since…


Time is on my side: The Rolling Stones



 Fill in the gaps (1-11) in the dialogue with the correct phrase (a-k) below.

a. wasted so much time     b. all the time in the world     c. time is of the essence

d. about time    e. against time    f. waits for no one    g. on our side   h. on time

i. out of time    j. in no time    k. by the time


Running out of time


A : Well it’s (1)…….! Where have you been ? We’re working (2)……. here.

B: Really? I thought that time was (3)……..

A: No, (4)……. here. We have to finish that job (5)……..

B: We’ll have it done (6)……., don’t worry.

A: (7)……. they arrive, we’ll be (8)……..

B: But they’re not coming back from holiday before tomorrow. We have (9)…….!

A: Haven’t you heard? They’re coming back tonight at 9 pm.

B: Oh no, I wish I hadn’t (10)……..

A: You should cut that window there, as planned. Time (11)……...


Answer Key:

1:d – 2:e – 3:g – 4:c – 5:h – 6:j – 7:k – 8:i – 9:b – 10:a – 11:f


A : Well it’s about time. Where have you been ? We’re working against time here.

B: Really? I thought that time was on our side.

A: No, time is of the essence. We have to finish that job on time.

B: We’ll have it done in no time, don’t worry.

A: By the time they arrive, we’ll be out of time.

B: But they’re not coming back from holiday before tomorrow. We have all the time in the world!

A: Haven’t you heard? They’re coming back tonight at 9 pm.

B: Oh no, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time.

A: You should cut that window there, as planned. Time waits for no one.


All words in bold are in the vocabulary quiz below.


Time by Pink Floyd


Time, perception and science

(Reading: Level C1 and above)

The way we see it, time flows, it passes, it goes in one direction, forever. But time is very much about perception. When you’re waiting for a bus, time seems to slow down. When you are focusing on something you are passionate about, time seems to move quickly. When you are asleep and dreaming, time ceases to exist.

We may, at times, go through an existential crisis when we think that we are finite (limité), or ephemeral. But in the end, time is really all about how we spend it. It is a resource and we get to choose what to do with it. It is the most valuable thing we possess. In this sense, time is indeed “money”.


The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at onceAlbert Einstein


Scientists have given us many theories on time because they think the simple explanation that time flows forward is not enough. To them, the “arrow (flèche) of time” is not built into the nature of reality.

According to Einstein, time is relative; time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object. So “now” does not mean anything. His theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous. Spacetime is a conceptual model combining the three dimensions of space with the fourth dimension of time.

Carlo Rovelli, theoretical physicist and author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, says that time is human perception. Why can we know only the past, and not the future, he told The Guardian. There is a lack of symmetry there: we have records (or we can make inferences) of the past but not of the future. The key is the one-directional flow. Take heat for example. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. And the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street.

Time is also entropy – a lack of order or organization in a system. Milk spoils at room temperature but its entropy will slow down if you put it in the fridge for example.

Entropy increases over time. According to cosmologists, the Big Bang, which (probably) started time as we know it, started at low entropy. Entropy in the universe is now higher than at the time of the Big Bang because gravity pulls everything together. Ever-increasing entropy is life, and so the passage of time, says Sean Carroll, another theoretical physicist.

But entropy, heat, past and future are qualities that belong to our superficial observation of it.

“If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

The quantum theory describes nature in terms of atoms and subatomic particles. Theoretical physics tries to make the quantum theory and the theory of general relativity work together. One answer, according to Rovelli, is the loop theory, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular (broken into separate items), a fine structure woven from loops.



In this video, Sean Carroll explains time:

The Passage of Time and the Meaning of Life

What is time? What is humankind’s role in the universe? For much of human history, these questions have been the province of religion and philosophy. What answers can science provide?




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Quiz: Quotes about time


As Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev said, “Time sometimes flies like a bird, sometimes crawls like a snail; but a man is happiest when he does not even notice whether it passes swiftly or slowly.”

Match these quotes with their author:

  1. You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all  the people all the time.
  2. Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
  3. Tough times never last but tough people do.
  4. It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.
  5. Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.
  6. Lost time is never found again.
  7. If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.


  1. Elizabeth Taylor, American actress
  2. Robert H. Schuller, American Christian televangelist
  3. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States
  4. Abraham Lincoln, 19th U.S. president
  5. Bruce Lee, Chinese American martial artist
  6. William Gibson, American-Canadian speculative fiction writer
  7. William Penn, 17th/18th English writer and religious thinker


Answer Key:

1:d – 2:f – 3:b – 4:a – 5:g – 6:c – 7:e


Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time (with lyrics)



Take the vocabulary time quiz

Match each word with its respective definition.

  1. Flow
  2. Pass
  3. Perception
  4. Seem
  5. Cease
  6. Crawl
  7. Swiftly


a. to appear to be something, or to appear to have a particular quality

b. a particular way of understanding or thinking about something

c. to move forward very slowly

d. to move continuously in one direction

e. quickly or immediately

f. if time or a period of time passes, it happens and comes to an end

g. to stop happening or continuing


Answer Key

1:d – 2:f – 3:b – 4:a – 5:g – 6:c – 7:e


  1. Resource
  2. Heist
  3. At once
  4. Relative
  5. Weave
  6. Loop
  7. Key


a. having a particular quality when compared with something else

b. to make clothes or other material by weaving cloth

c. the thing that will do most to help you to achieve something (in this context)

d. an organized attempt by thieves to steal something

e. At the same time (in this context)

f. something that you can use to help you to achieve something, especially in your work or study

g. a round shape or curve made by a line curling back towards itself


Answer Key

8:f – 9:d – 10:e – 11:a – 12:b – 13:g – 14:c


  1. Reversible
  2. Vanish
  3. Province
  4. Fool
  5. Tough
  6. Effect


a. a change that is produced in one person or thing by another

b. to disappear in a sudden and mysterious way

c. to trick someone by making them believe something that is not true

d. a subject that someone knows about or is responsible for (in this context)

e. able to return or be changed to a previous state

f. strong and able to deal with difficult situations or pain


Answer Key

15:e – 16:b – 17:d – 18:c – 19:f – 20:a




A fly-on-the-wall exclusive: Alone at last. Vladimir and Joe in Geneva.

(Coffee break June 16, Villa La Grange, Geneva. Time: 14.56pm – 15.09pm. Present: Russian president Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden)


V: Two sugars and a dash of almond milk isn’t it, Joe?

J: Vlad, you’ve got your spies everywhere, haven’t you?

V: (shoulder shrug) You might think that. Anyway, you can’t talk Joe. You have got big ears everywhere. You even spy on Angela and your so-called EU friends. Don’t get all innocent with me Joe. You’re not as lily-white as your teeth.

J: Touché.

(pause… stirs his coffee)

How did the 45th president like his coffee? You know, “your man in Washington…”

V: You mean “Putin’s puppy”.

(They both laugh)

Donald was more a Diet-Coke-and-straw-in a-cup president. He was a real slurper and what you Americans say…,a… um, a straw president. He was softie, like his soft drinks.

(They both laugh)

J: Well, he’s on the rocks now my friend.

V: Be careful, my friend. Old Russian proverb: Never trust a wounded bear.

(pause Vladimir sips his coffee. Puts down his cup and looks Biden in the eye)

By the way, do you want the tape? You know, the “pee-pee tape” at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow. I’ve got it here in my pocket. In fact, I’ve got a “Best of Donald” dossier that we can talk about.

Easy swap. Let’s see… Ukraine becomes Our-kraine, and it’s yours. What do you think?

J: No, no, no … please Vlad no tricks. Please. You wily, old KGB coyote.

(pauseVladimir sips his coffee. Joe’s coffee remains untouched)

Yeah, you had 45 in your pocket, didn’t you?

V: No, it’s you Americans that like your 45s in your pockets.


J: Seriously, though Vladimir… is it true?

V: Is what true?

J: You know the pee-pee tape…?

V: Well, it’s up to you. “For Your Eyes Only”,  as your Mr Bond would say.

J: Okay.

(Joe looks around).

Just put it on my saucer.

(Vladimir pulls a tiny USB stick out of his pocket and places it on the American president’s coffee saucer. Joe takes it and puts it in his pocket)

Thanks. So, how’s the bear wrestling?

V: Great. Aaah… yes, of course, we are friends on Facebook. The bear shoots take a bit of time and energy. We’re all getting a bit long in the tooth, aren’t we, old Joe? It takes a bit out of you. These days even riding bare-back, bare-chested with a crossbow makes my bones ache. It’s unbearable.

J: Yeah, well my friend, I’ll be basking in the sunshine in Florida in a few years. You’ll be president for the next 22 years. So that’ll make you about 90, eh? Makes me look a like a spring chicken. God, you guys love the old iron dictator, super-glue grip, don’t you? Just can’t let go.

V: Keeps me young. I’ve got lots of projects. (smiles)

J: I bet you do. They tell me you’re a closet fan of climate change.

V: Best thing that happened in Russia for ages, and I mean since the Ice Age. Siberia will be the new riviera. We’re turning Solzhenitsyn’s camp into a theme park. The Arctic Sea will be the new Suez. The old Suez will be in the sewers. That’s a joke, Joe. C’mon drink up Joe… your coffee is getting cold.

J: No, not really thirsty. You might call it the Navalny effect. What is with you guys? Is that the only thing you learned from Chernobyl?

V: Come on Joe, that was a cup of tea, or so I’m told. And I had nothing to do with it. I was bear wrestling at the time with Steven Seagal and Gerard Depardieu. You should try it.

J:  No, bears are not my cup of tea. Panda wrestling seems to be my new sport. I think I might need to borrow your crossbow. Anyway, I’m just glad that you wore a shirt and suit for Geneva, Vladimir.

V: Ha ha… (smiles)  C’mon! Next summit in Geneva. And, we can have a judo match instead of talking all this hot air. We might actually get a result.

J: Well, we better get out there and at least agree on something. The world is looking for a “stable and predictable” relationship.

V: Well Joe, I do like the Villa la Grange. Let’s agree on another summit. That’s about the best I can do… How can I trust you with all the other stuff? You won’t even drink your coffee. When are your free?  Drink up and let’s go and face the world.

J:  Okay Vladimir, let’s go. You talk about bear wrestling. I’ll talk about panda wrestling. See you soon back in sunny Geneva.


(The two men exit to the sound of flashing bulbs and journalists’ questions)









Let’s sing: The path to glory is built by the bodies of our enemies

I like La Marseillaise, the French national anthem (hymne nationale). It’s inspiring and exhilarating. But then, I found a translation. I now sympathise with French footballers and others who seem to be tongue-tied when it thunders, pre-match or pre-ceremony, over the loudspeakers.

Why would any vaguely responsible person in 2021 really wish to enthusiastically sing the following lyrics?

Do you hear in the countryside, the roar of these savage soldiers, they come right into our arms, to cut the throats of your sons and women! May impure blood water our fields!

(Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!)

Anthems are generally pretty ugly songs, both musically and lyrically. In the next few weeks, you are going to get an earful. The UEFA Euro 2020, which like anthems, seems to have got lost in a time warp, will offer up the pre-match cringe spectacle of tattooed primates in their prime stumbling over the words of nations’ calls to war, followed by the awful theatre of crowds booing as players take the knee against racism.


We encourage our children to give blood, not to irrigate our lands with it


We educate our children to be compassionate and non-violent. We speak to them of fair play, respect for ethnic and sexual diversity. We encourage them to give blood, not to spill it or irrigate our lands with it.

Yet, we expect them to fervently chant racist and violent diatribe with a hand clasped over their hearts.

Anthems are frozen in time. Often times of war. Many anthems are tribal calls to war. They speak of rivers of blood, death to the foreigners and our own selfless death in defence of the sacred lands within our glorious borders. It’s all a bit Kim Jong-unesque.  A little outdated and uncivilised in this day and age, you might say.


It is sung to the beat of war; the melody of machine guns and the rhythm of gunpowder


The Algerian national anthem Qassaman (We Pledge) written in 1956 by poet writer Moufdi Zakaria is as dire as Le Marseillaise. It is sung to the beat of war; the melody of machine guns and the rhythm of gunpowder.

We swear by the lightning that destroys,

By the streams of generous blood being shed.  

When we spoke, none listened to us,

So we have taken the noise of gunpowder as our rhythm,

And the sound of machine guns as our melody…

This cry for war is perhaps understandable, as it was allegedly written on the walls of Zakaria’s cell in blood between spells of torture in a French colonial prison.

Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians) was written by a 20 year old.

As you can imagine, it speaks of lazy summery afternoons, floral dresses, fine wines and a delicious plate of Pappardelle ai Funghi. No, of course it doesn’t.


We are ready to die


The over-riding message is sacrifice:

We are ready to die (siam pronti alla morte). This line is repeated four times in each chorus and the chorus is sung four times. That is 16 times each anthem. That’s brainwashing according to a UN charter.

Mercenary swords, they’re feeble reeds.

The Austrian eagle has already lost its plumes.

The blood of Italy and the Polish blood it drank, along with the Cossack.

But it burned its heart.



They’re just the kind of merry songs that unite us.

The Turkish national anthem İstiklâl marşı elevates martyrdom to a new level.

Render your chest as armour and your body as trench!

For only then, shall my fatigued tombstone, if there is one,

prostrate a thousand times in ecstasy,

and tears of fiery blood shall flow out of my every wound,

and my lifeless body shall gush out from the earth like an eternal spirit.


If the Americans had heard (and understood) the Vietnamese national anthem in the 1950s they would have quickly understood that dominoes was a game to be played at home, rather than a political theory to base a war upon


If the Americans had heard (and understood) the Vietnamese national anthem in the 1950s they would have quickly understood that dominoes was a game to be played at home, rather than a political theory to base a war upon.

The Vietnamese anthem, The Song of the Marching Troops (Tiến Quân Ca) basically translates as: I wouldn’t make me angry, if I were you….

Our flag, red with the blood of victory, bears the spirit of the country;

The distant rumbling of the guns mingles with our marching song;

The path to glory is built by the bodies of our foes; 

For too long have we swallowed our hatred. Be ready for all sacrifices.

Hats off to Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and San Marino. They are the only countries that have wordless anthems, a trend that should definitely be adopted worldwide.  Besides, who actually knows all the words to their anthem and, for that matter, who would really want to sing with pride about gushing rivers of blood?

Thankfully, there are some anthems that lift hearts and souls, rather than swords and guns. One is called the European Union Anthem.



Anthems to listen to (with English subtitles)


France – La Marseillaise


Italy – Il Canto degli Italiani


Vietnam – Tiến Quân Ca


The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen


Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner


The Swiss anthem is wordy (especially in four languages) and God-centred. The enemy is the weather.

When the morning skies grow red
And over us their radiance shed
Thou, O Lord, appeareth in their light!
When the alps glow bright with splendor,
Pray to God, to Him surrender!
For you feel and understand
That God dwelleth in this land.
That God, the Lord, dwelleth in this land.

In the sunset Thou art night
And beyond the starry sky
Thou, O loving father, ever near!
When to Heaven we are departing
Joy and bliss Thou’lt be imparting!
For we feel and understand
That God dwelleth in this land.
That God, the Lord, dwelleth in this land.

When dark clouds enshroud the hills
And gray mist the valley fills
Yet Thou art not hidden from thy sons!
Pierce the gloom in which we cower
With Thy sunshine’s cleansing power
Then we’ll feel and understand
That God dwelleth in this land.
That God, the Lord, dwelleth in this land.

Towards us in the wild storm coming,
You yourself give us resistance and stronghold,
You, almighty ruling, rescuing!
During horror and nights of thunderstorms
Let us childlike trust Him!
Yes, we feel and understand,
That God dwelleth in this land.
That God, the Lord, dwelleth in this land.


Sorry. So sorry. Terribly sorry. The English sorry reflex.

Level B1-C1 (saying sorry in English: reading, expressions, quote quiz, vocabulary quiz)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House


‘Sorry’ must be one of the most over-used adjectives in British English – and to a lesser extent in North American and Australasian English too.

A survey in 2016 found that that the average British person says ‘sorry’ about eight times per day. Not that the British have more to apologise for than others. Besides, ‘sorry’ is not just about good manners which require you to apologise when you have done something wrong. In fact, the British say ‘sorry’ even when they are not at fault. Someone bumps into them in the street, they say ‘sorry’. You tell them the weather is bad in Switzerland, they say ‘sorry’. Your cat is sick – ‘sorry’. They want to ask you for some information – ‘sorry’. They would like to sit next to you – ‘sorry’.


“Only the Japanese seem to have anything even approaching the English sorry reflex”


Saying ‘sorry’ is a reflex. According to social anthropologist Kate Fox, “Only the Japanese seem to have anything even approaching the English sorry reflex.

“Our excessive, often inappropriate and sometimes downright misleading use of this word devalues it, and it makes things very confusing and difficult for foreigners unaccustomed to our ways,” Fox told Still, she added, “I don’t think saying sorry all the time is such a bad thing.”



Sorry’ is not just for apologising


‘Sorry’ is not just about expressing remorse. It is also used to express sympathy, to acknowledge an unfortunate circumstance, or to show a non-confrontational stance, humility, to create trust, to get someone’s attention, and to require clarification.

For example:

I’m so sorry this happened to you.

I’m sorry to hear that.

I’m sorry for your loss.

I’m sorry for him.

I’m sorry about you losing your job.

I’m sorry for barging in on you like that… / for interrupting…

Sorry to bother you

Sorry,  is anyone sitting here?

Sorry? (I did not understand what you said. Could you please repeat?)


Sorry can also be confrontational or threatening:

I’m sorry? What did you just say? When you are not happy about what someone said.

Don’t you dare do that again, or you’ll be sorry! As a threat.


You also use ‘sorry’ as an introduction when you are telling a person something they may not want to hear:

No, I’m sorry, I can’t agree with you.

I’m sorry, but Miss Lee is resting and can’t be disturbed.

Sorry–no baths after ten o’clock.

Sorry, wrong number.


As you can see ‘sorry’ is used all the time. It’s definitely not the hardest word.

Elton John – Sorry seems to be the hardest word – with lyrics



Using ‘sorry’ to apologise


Saying ‘sorry’ to apologise might be enough in some circumstances, but it does not count as sufficient in others. Best to add words around it, such as:

  • I’m truly sorry for what I have done. It was wrong. I regret it now. I will never do it again. What can I do to make it right?
  • Looks like I gave you the wrong phone number. Sorry about that.

Sorry about that: for minor mistakes

  • “I lost the book you lent me. I’m so sorry!“

I’m so/very/really/terribly sorry: I understand I caused a problem

  • “I’m sorry if I caused you pain / for causing you pain.”
  • “I’m sorry (that) I behaved in such a childish way.”


All the words in bold can be found in the vocabulary quiz below.




Tracey Chapman – Baby, Can I hold you tonight


Other ways to apologise


My apologies (or ‘I apologise for’: more formal than ‘sorry’)

My apologies, but your order will not arrive until Monday.

In business English, we often use phrases like “We sincerely apologise” (apologize in

the U.S.) or “Please accept our apologies.”

Pardon / pardon me / I beg your pardon (formal)

  • Pardon me; I didn’t mean to offend you.
  • Pardon? I didn’t catch what you said.

Excuse me (when you interrupt a conversation or apologise for committing a social no-no)

  • Excuse me; I didn’t realize that wearing shoes indoors was impolite in this country.

Mea Culpa (to apologize or take responsibility for wrongdoing)

  • The witness wrote a statement of mea culpa after he was caught lying in court.

Oops  / Whoops (used for mild errors or social blunders)

  • Whoops, I am so sorry, I broke your coffee mug.

My bad (slang expression used to claim responsibility for an action). American English. See song by Khalid below.

  • I lost the book you lent me. My bad! I will buy you a replacement.

My fault (admitting responsibility)

  • It was my fault that we didn’t get to the airport on time. 

Take full responsibility (more formal situations)

  • I take full responsibility for failing to train the employees properly.

I messed up / I screwed up (informal ways to say you did something wrong)

  • I can’t believe I forgot your birthday. I messed up.

I owe you an apology (often used to open or to begin the conversation)

  • I owe you an apology. I said some horrible things to you.

I should have / I shouldn’t have (talk about what the correct action would have been)

  • I shouldn’t have taken your camera. I should have asked you first.

That was wrong of me (or ‘it was wrong’: my action was not morally correct)

  • I gave you the silent treatment, and that was wrong of me.

Ashamed of (I feel bad about it)

  • I haven’t been helping you around the house at all. I’m ashamed of my behaviour.

I truly/really/sincerely regret (I feel bad about it)

  • I truly regret my offensive comments.

How can I make it up to you? (what can I do to compensate for my mistake)

  • I’m sorry I had to work late, and missed our date. How can I make it up to you?

I hope you can forgive me (or ‘will you forgive me?’)

  • I know that what I did was wrong. I hope you can forgive me.


Khalid – My Bad


Expressions with the word ‘sorry’


  • What he must not do is to sit around at home feeling sorry for himself. (keep thinking unhappily about his problems)
  • The fire left Kuwait’s oil industry in a sorry state. (in a bad state)
  • She is a sorry sight. (in a bad state / miserable)
  • They were a sorry lot. (in a bad state / wretched)
  • I’ll take my backpack; better safe than sorry. (it is better to be prudent)
  • A sorry excuse for a man (disappointing)
  • We’re going to have to lay off 100 employees, I’m sorry to say / report (talk about something bad or disappointing)


Sources:; Expressoenglish;;


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Quote Quiz

Match these quotes with their author:

  1. Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
  2. Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.
  3. An apology is a good way to have the last word.
  4. Apologies only account for that which they do not alter.
  5. Never apologise, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.
  6. Apologizing does not always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value your relationship more than your ego.
  7. An apology is the superglue of life! It can repair just about anything!


a. Mark Matthews – author (The Protector)

b. Unknown

c. Benjamin Franklin – founding father of the United States

d. Lynn Johnston – Canadian cartoonist (For Better or For Worse)

e. Robert Brault – author

f. Benjamin Disraeli – 19th century Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

g. John Wayne – American actor


Answer key:

1:c – 2:e – 3:b – 4:f – 5:g – 6:a – 7:d


Justin Bieber – Sorry


Vocabulary quiz

Here are 18 words found in the text above. Match them to their corresponding definition.

  1. Apologise
  2. Bump into
  3. Misleading
  4. Devalue
  5. Sympathy
  6. Remorse
  7. Acknowledge
  8. Stance
  9. Barge in


a. to treat someone or something as if they are not important

b. to accidentally hit against something (in this context)

c. to accept or admit that something exists, is true, or is real

d. a natural feeling of kindness and understanding that you have for someone who is experiencing something very unpleasant

e. to tell someone that you are sorry for doing something wrong or for causing a problem

f. to enter a room suddenly and noisily, usually interrupting someone in a rude way

g. intended or likely to make someone believe something that is incorrect or not true

h. a strong sad and guilty feeling about something that you have done wrong

i. an attitude or view about an issue that you state clearly


Answer key:

1:e – 2:b – 3:g – 4:a – 5:d – 6:h – 7:c – 8:i – 9:f



10. Bother

11. Confrontational

12. Count

13. No-no

14. Wrongdoing

15. Blunder

16. Slang

17. Offensive

18. Excuse


a. a careless or embarrassing mistake

b. something that most people do not approve of

c. to annoy someone by interrupting them when they are busy or want to be left alone

d. a reason that you give to explain why you have done something bad, or why you have not done something that you should have done

e. words or expressions that are very informal and are not considered suitable for more formal situations

f. behaving in a way that shows you want to have an argument or fight with someone

g. to think of someone or something as a particular thing, or to be thought of as a particular thing: Does geography count as a science subject?

h. behaviour that is illegal or not moral

i. unpleasant or insulting, and likely to make people upset or embarrassed


Answer key:

10:c – 11:f – 12:g – 13:b – 14:h – 15:a – 16:e – 17:i – 18:d


Paul McCartney – Uncle Albert  – with lyrics






My tailor is rich. Where is Brian?

(Where is Brian? Learning English. B2+)

French comedian and actor Gad Elmaleh calls it the great existentialist question.

It’s a question that has traumatised millions of French people learning to speak English.

Where is Brian?

The answer is more architectural than philosophical. We all know Brian is in the kitchen. For many English learners who never got past the first lesson, Brian is still in the kitchen. Forever in the kitchen. His sister Jenny, however, prefers the bathroom. Brian does get to wander into different rooms if students continue to turn the pages of Speak English 6éme (for children in the first year of secondary school), first published in 1972 and popular throughout the 1980s in French schools.



Here’s Gad Elmaleh:



There is another weird piece of language that has embedded itself in the minds of generations of French speakers learning English:

My tailor is rich

My tailor is rich, (but my English is poor) was in lesson one of the Assimil method of L’anglais sans Peine, (English without Toil) first published in 1929.  It was also the very first spoken phrase in the first Assimil L’anglais sans Peine vinyl record released in the 1960s.

This was lesson one. Page 2.



Lesson one page 1 had useful phrases like.

Your cigarette is not finished.

Our doctor is not good.

Your flowers are not beautiful.



The phrasema tehya eez reesh’‘ (my tailor is rich) even appears in the French–dubbed version of the horror film The Exorcist (NB: not for the weak-hearted). A giggle amongst the horror.



The catchy phrase appears in the Astérix chez les Bretons comic book. It is the name of a musical group and the title of an album released by the Belgian group The Vogues.

It became a household term thanks to slapstick comedian Louis de Funès in the film Le Gendarme à New York released in 1965.



The programme Karambolage on Arte  made this linguistic homage to my tailor is rich in 2010.



Pretty weird!  These banal phrases have been scarily imprinted into the memory banks of many would-be English speakers.

They are neither the simplest, nor the most practical phrases to slip into a conversation, despite being lesson one, exercise one of two popular English learning methods developed for French speakers.


Le singe est sur la branche


Likewise, English speakers learning French are armed with equally brilliant first-lesson phrases such as le singe est sur la branche (the monkey is on the branch), le chat est sur la chaise (the cat is on the chair), and la souris est en dessous de la table (the mouse is under the table).

These are challenging phrases for English tourists. There’s not a lot of jungle in France and monkeys are rare in Paris. The UK comedian-actor-activist and executive transvestite (travesti executif), Eddie Izzard, explains (with some swearing):



Finally, here’s a song dedicated to Brian, forever in the kitchen. It was a pop hit, later used by IKEA to great success.

Man Like Me – You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties (written by and first performed by Jona Lewie, who appears in the video)