Words that Work: 7 words and expressions in 5 minutes!


Burning Bridge. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dewey_Bridge_Fire_4-06-2008.jpg

Today, I want to go over 3 expressions that came up this week in my classes, and briefly explain how and why we might use each of them. Each of these are used in both business and personal conversations. There are sample dialogues that also contain a few bonus expressions that will be explained at the end of this post. But wait there’s more! Look for four bonus words and expressions used in this post and explained at the end. There is a brief quiz you can take to practice the new vocabulary.

I. “No good can come of it.” or “Nothing good can come of it.”
Either of these collocations can be used to mean that if a particular action is taken, the outcome will probably be terrible. You can use this to give advice (if asked) when someone presents what sounds like a disastrous plan. Let’s see this in a dialogue:

Anna: I’m so mad at my old boss for firing me. Now that I have a new job, I’m going to write her a letter and tell her exactly what I think of her!

John: Anna, why would you do that? You got four months of severance pay and an excellent reference. You left on good terms. You might still need her as a contact in the future. Why burn bridges?

Anna: But John, she hurt my feelings! I feel so betrayed. I want her to know what I really think of her and her stupid company!

John: Please Anna. Do not do this thing! No good can come of it.

II. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
This expression is a bit of a cliche, so it is best to avoid it, but you might hear someone use it. Sometimes people just say the first part, “You can lead a horse….” People are so familiar with the expression that you don’t need to say the whole thing for them to understand! It means you can lead someone in the right direction, but you can’t force someone to take the right action.

Joe: I’ve tried to give Roger good advice and mentorship on the project, but he doesn’t seem interested in my help.

Beth: That sounds frustrating. I know you’ve tried. Some of your tips could really help him, but you know what they say: You can lead a horse to water…

Joe: So true! But I wish there was something more I could do!

Beth: Some people have to learn the hard way!

III. “They’re going through something.” or “They’re going through a lot.”
The word “through” can be difficult for nonnative speakers! To begin with, the spelling is not phonetic! The meaning of “through” is to pass from one side to another, as in this example: “I had to go through Vermont to get to New Hampshire.” However, we use the word in many different ways. When we use it as part of a phrasal (two word) verb with “go” or “going” the meaning changes. When people say, “I’m going through a lot” or “I’m going through something” they usually mean that some change or changes are happening in their lives, which are difficult. It is possible to use “going through” for positive changes as well, but usually we use it when someone is in the middle of a difficult period.

Sarah: I just wanted to check in with you about the barbecue. Are you coming?
Robert; I’m sorry, Sarah. We can’t make it. My mom is going through a lot right now and we’re going to be visiting her.
Sarah: I’m so sorry to hear that! It’s so great you’re going to see her. Maybe you and Dana can come over for dinner after you get back.
Robert: We’d love that! Thanks for understanding!

Notice in the above example, Robert does not need to be specific about what his mother is going through. Is she ill? Bereaved? Having financial difficulties? We don’t know, and it’s not necessary for Sarah to ask. Sarah understands that whatever she is going through is serious enough for Robert to go see her instead of going to his friend’s barbecue.

Bonus phrases used in this post:

Came up is a phrasal verb. It has a few meanings.
The most common meaning is “to be mentioned. Example: “Your name came up at the meeting! The boss wants you to be part of the team on this!”
Another meaning is “to invent” or “to find a solution.” Example: “The team came up with a quick fix for the bug in the software.”
A third meaning is when some unexpected issue happens, and plans might need to be changed. Often this is used without explaining the full nature of the issue. Example: “Hi Jane. This is Julie, Ted’s assistant. He asked me to message you that he can’t make it to the 2:00 meeting today. Something came up. He’s really sorry and will call you himself to reschedule.”

Burn bridges: When someone “burns bridges” or “burns a bridge” they engage in behavior that breaks off the possibility of future good relations with an individual, group, organization, or community. This might involve an action such as ending a relationship on terms that are so harsh and bitter that one can never ask the other person for anything ever again.

To learn the hard way is used when one learns a lesson through a negative experience, often after warnings or opportunities to learn through the experience of others. Example: “We tried to warn Mike that Melissa is easily offended and you have to be really careful around her, but he didn’t listen, and now he’s learning the hard way.”

Come over: This is a phrasal verb that is often used to mean visit or stop by a person’s home, office, etc. Example: “John is coming over for dinner.” Note: the word “over” isn’t actually necessary for the sentence to make sense. It is also correct to say, “John is coming for dinner.”

Take a Quick Quiz to help you remember these phrases:

Choose the word or phrase that fits:

The topic didn’t (come up) (come over) at the meeting.
The topic didn’t ______________ at the meeting.

You can lead a (cow) (pig) (horse) to water but you can’t make him (swim) (drink).
You can lead a _________ to water but you can’t make him _______.

It’s always a good idea to leave a job on good terms, and not burn (houses down) (cars) (bridges).
It’s always a good idea to leave a job on good terms and not burn _____________.

Martha is (passing through) (coming through) (going through) a lot right now, so let’s try to be supportive.
Martha is _________________ a lot right now, so let’s try to be supportive.

To see the answers click below