We may have more than one adjective in front of a noun.
A big black Italian car
In English there is a fixed order of adjectives.
1. Opinion 2. Size 3. Physical quality 4. Shape 5. Age 6. Colour 7. Origin/nationality 8. Material 9. Type 10. Purpose
You would not write *an old nice little lady – a nice little old lady sounds much better (for the use of the asterisk see the comment at the end of this text).
Native English speakers automatically put adjectives in this fixed order, but non-native users of English usually don’t know the rule.
We should remember, of course, that we seldom use a long row of adjectives before a noun – usually only one or two, and then they are often combined with and or but: It was a dark and rainy night. They stayed at a cheap but comfortable hotel.
Why do we say big bad wolf? Bad is an opinion and should come before big (size). But there is another rule that says that vowels follow the order i–a–o. Think of words such as riff-raff, zig-zag, tip-top, flip-flop or hip-hop. Therefore, we say big bad wolf and not *bad big wolf.
In an earlier blog post we looked at compounds and and noted that some are written with one or two hyphens. Here are a few examples:
Brother-in-law (your sister’s husband or your wife’s or husband’s brother) Runner-up (one who finishes in second place) Cul-de-sac (a street that is closed at one end) Editor-in-chief (the manager of an editorial staff)
How should you write the plural form of such compounds? The answer is fairly logical: add the plural -s to the main part of the compound, the significant part.
Brothers-in-law Runners-up Editors-in-chief
Cul-de-sac has two plural forms: culs-de-sac or cul-de-sacs
When we write the genitive form, the -s comes at the end when we talk about people:
My brother-in-law’s new car The editor-in-chief’s wife
However, you can also write
The wife of the editor-in-chief
When we talk about things, we use the genitive form with of:
Two years later he remarried. The votes had to be recounted. After the installation you have to restart your computer. All components are reusable.
Since re here means again, you must avoid writing He remarried again or The votes had to be recounted again (that would mean that he married at least three times or that the votes were counted three times). You can read more about unnecessary words here.
Re can also mean a change in the position or state of something:
relocate = locate in a new place rearrange = arrange in a different way
Some words with re have two versions, one with a hyphen and one without, and there is a difference in meaning.
get back health, ability,
change or improve something
subdue, not allow feelings,
etc., to be expressed
make a new copy of a recording
dislike or be annoyed at
someone or something
as in 'He re-sent the parcel'
arrange for something to be
kept for your future use
Use a hyphen if re means again and if omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word.
You can read more about using a hyphen here and about the difference between a hyphen and a dash here.
There is a clear difference between afraid of and afraid for.
When you are afraid of, for example, snakes, you have a fear that snakes might harm you.
My little sister is afraid of spiders.
When you are afraid for someone, you fear that something bad might happen to them.
I’m afraid for you. Never go out alone late in the evening! She had always been a typical mother hen, overprotective and constantly afraid for her children.
AFRAID FOLLOWED BY A VERB
Afraid can also be used with a verb.
There is a difference in meaning between these two:
Afraid of doing something (more general) Afraid to do something (because of the potential result)
He was afraid of losing his girlfriend, but he was afraid to tell her about his fears. I’m afraid of climbing high ladders. The parcel had arrived but she was afraid to open it.
You can use the phrase I’m afraid to signal that something is impossible or untrue. If you ask to see your manager, the secretary might answer, ’I’m afraid she’s not in at the moment’. This means that the secretary knows that the manager is not there but wants to present the fact in a polite way. In some other languages the corresponding phrase indicates uncertainty, and the secretary will most likely go and check if the manager is in the office.
You can also use the phrase I’m afraid to soften disagreement or bad news:
I’m afraid you have misunderstood my intentions. You have to leave now, I’m afraid. I’m moving into my new flat on Saturday. Do you think you could give me a hand? I’m afraid not. I’ll be away on a fishing trip over the weekend.
A ballpark number A very inexact number, a rough estimate.
A bed of roses A comfortable, happy, trouble-free position or situation.
A piece of cake Something that is easy to do.
Back to square one Having to start from the beginning again because your previous attempt failed.
Bark up the wrong tree Do something in a wrong way, take a wrong approach, make the wrong choice.
Break a leg This idiom is used to wish someone good luck. It is said that actors are superstitious and that they do not want people to say ’good luck’ to them, because then the opposite might happen. The idiom probably comes from the German Hals- und Beinbruch (break your neck and legs).
Bring home the bacon Earn money for one’s family.
Call it a day Decide to stop doing something, especially when you are tired or bored.
Cost an arm and a leg Be extremely expensive.
Cry wolf Warn that there is a problem when there is none. If you do that too often, people will not believe you when there really is a problem.
Cut corners Disregard the right procedure in order to save time or money, so that the result is bad quality or even illegal.
Cut to the chase Get to the point without wasting time. The idiom is said to have come from the film world. Films often ended with a dramatic chase scene. Some screenwriters created unnecessary scenes that bored the audience. When a director said ’Cut to the chase’, it meant ’Skip the uninteresting stuff and go straight to the final scene’.
Face the music Accept responsibility or unpleasant consequences of what you have done.
Hit the sack/Hit the hay Go to bed.
Hold your horses Slow down, be patient.
In the red When you are in the red, you are in debt, you lose money. Accountants used red ink when recording business losses. The opposite expression in the black of course means ‘be solvent, have enough money’.
It ain’t over till the fat lady sings Don’t be too sure that you know what the outcome will be. The idiom refers to opera. When the soprano (and in the old days sopranos used to be pretty voluminous) has sung her final aria, we know that the whole thing is over.
Let the cat out of the bag Reveal a secret, often without intention.
Like a bull in a china shop This idiom is used about people who rush into a situation without thinking and clumsily destroy things in their way. It is also used figuratively about a person who is insensitive to other people’s feelings and says or does things that hurt them.
On the ball Be alert and able to react quickly, be competent.
Pull someone’s leg Make somebody believe something that is not true.
Put the cat among the pigeons Say or do something that worries people or makes them angry.
Red tape Rules or routines that are complicated and lead to delays or obstructions; bureaucracy.
Smell a rat Suspect that something is wrong.
Spill the beans Unintentionally reveal a secret.
Straight from the horse’s mouth Information directly from a reliable source, from someone who has personal knowledge.
Take a back seat Become less active or involved.
The elephant in the room A problem or controversial issue that everybody in a group is aware of but nobody wants to talk about because it would be uncomfortable or embarrassing.
Through thick and thin If you stay with someone through thick and thin, you do so for a long time even if there are difficulties.
An idiom is an expression that means something else than its separate words might suggest. Many idioms are peculiar to a specific language. Therefore, you should be careful when you try to translate an idiom from your own language into another.
There is a children’s game called follow the leader. One child is the leader and the others must follow and repeat what that child does.
Follow the leader has become an idiom meaning go along with, do as you are told, obey. In my native Swedish the saying is follow John. When I was young I worked as a farm helper in Wales. The farmer often took me and his family to various markets and fairs, where we could discover the latest in farm machinery, admire award-winning sheep and see fine displays of cakes and flower arrangements. The whole thing meant a lot of criss-crossing over large areas from one spectacle to another, and once when the farmer was hurrying along with the rest of us following in his footsteps, I shouted, ”Now we’re following John!” I had no idea that the English expression is different, and since the farmer’s first name was John, I thought I was really witty. I always addressed him by Mr. Wrench and never called him John. His family must have thought that I was very impolite.
Here are some English idioms with their equivalents in Swedish and some other languages:
Carry coals to Newcastle To express that you do something that is redundant or completely pointless, you can say in English to carry coals to Newcastle. Since Newcastle is known for its coal, it’s meaningless to carry coals there. The French expression is porter de l’eau à la rivière (carry water to the river), and in Swedish it is gå över ån efter vatten (cross the stream to get water). The German idiom is Eulen nach Athen tragen (carry owls to Athens – the owl is a symbol of wisdom and there were many wise men in old Athens).
Beat around the bush To say that you avoid doing or talking about something unpleasant or difficult, there is the English idiom beat around the bush. The corresponding Swedish expression is gå som katten kring het gröt (walk like the cat around hot porridge). There is a similar expression in German, um den Brei herumreden (talk around the porridge). In French the saying is tourner autour au pot (going around the pot). The Italians say menare il can per l’aia (lead the dog to the barn).
Foot the bill If you ask someone to foot the bill, you want them to pay the costs. This is in German zur Kasse bitten (ask someone to come to the cash desk). In Swedish you have to betala kalaset (pay for the party) or stå för fiolerna (pay for the violins).
The straw that broke the camel’s back This idiom means that something small will be the final action that causes a large and unwanted reaction. The Swedish equivalent is the drop that made the cup run over. Other European languages such as German, French, Italian and Spanish also refer to a cup that runs over.
Out of the frying pan into the fire This is an expression saying that something is going from bad to worse. The Swedish saying is ur askan i elden (out of the ashes into the fire).
Kill two birds with one stone This means that you can achieve two goals with just one action. In Swedish we say slå två flugor i en smäll (hit two flies with one swat). Danish and German are other languages that refer to flies instead of birds.
Miss the boat If you are too slow to take advantage of an opportunity and it’s now too late, you miss the boat. In Swedish we say tåget har gått (the train has left).
Let the cat out of the bag Inadvertently disclose a secret. The Swedish equivalent is prata bredvid munnen (talk beside your mouth).
Cost an arm and a leg To say that something is very expensive is in Swedish kosta skjortan (cost the shirt).
IDENTICAL IDIOMS IN ENGLISH AND SWEDISH
Many idioms are almost identical in English and Swedish. The following are some examples.
Cast pearls before swine Offer something to someone who does not understand it or want to use it
No smoke without fire A rumour about someone is probably true
Play with fire Do something risky that may harm you
Hit the nail on the head Do or say something that is exactly right
Grab the bull by its horns Directly take strong action to deal with a problem
Sleep like a log Sleep very deeply without being woken by any noises
Strong as an ox Be very strong
Like father, like son Resemble a parent in appearance or behaviour
Sweep things under the carpet Hide something that is embarrassing or wrong
Put your cards on the table Be completely honest about your intentions
Eat like a horse Eat a lot of food
Throw in the towel Admit that you are defeated
You need to be careful when you use idioms. So, if you talk about a cat walking round hot porridge, a native English speaker will look very surprised.
What is the difference between farther and further?
Not a very big one, I’d say. Except in certain cases.
Both words can be used regarding distance. There are language purists who maintain that farther refers to physical distance and further to imaginative distance, but common usage does not seem to make that distinction. (If you want to stick to the distinction, it may help to remember that farther has far in it.)
The café is at the farther end of the street. I can’t walk any farther. Can you see her at the further end of the corridor? We can’t get any further – there is a tree across the road.
Further can also mean more, in addition.
We need to look further into this. Does it need further explanation? Further (= Furthermore), recent research has shown this to be true.
In examples like the above, use further and not farther.
We can find further in some common sayings:
Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ll deal with that further down the road (= later on, in the future). He can’t see further than the end of his nose. This will be in effect until further notice. They left without further ado (= immediately, without delay). Seek no further! This can be seen as a further expression of her influence on the political development. Further to our telephone conversation this morning, I am writing to confirm our order for ten ink cartridges. I have nothing further to add.
Further can also be a verb, meaning promote, develop, help.
What can we do to further her studies? He only wants to further his own interests.
In sum, if you want to write farther, do so only when it is a matter of physical distance. You will never be wrong using further.
Read about the difference between furthermore and moreoverhere.
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