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KA WORDCAST: IDIOMS AND PHRASAL VERBS
LESSON THREE: BACK FOR GOOD
Back for Good—Take That
For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at important English idioms, phrasal verbs, and other useful, everyday expressions. If you’ve missed any of our previously aired episodes, you can always go back to the KA Voicecast website and access them from the archives.
So, what exactly is an “idiom?” The dictionary defines an idiom as “a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from the literal meaning.” Usually, an idiom’s literal meaning cannot be guessed based on its individual parts. In other words, the phrases must be learned. There are tens of thousands of idiomatic expressions in the English language, and most have figurative meanings so “separate from” their literal meanings that unless you know them, they can sound like complete nonsense.
One good example is the expression, “Bark up the wrong tree.”
When someone tells you, “You’re barking up the wrong tree, buddy,” what does he or she mean? You’re obviously not a dog, so why would you be barking? And there’s no tree in sight. So what is the speaker suggesting? Well, to “bark up the wrong tree” means that you’ve made the wrong decision, or you’re asking the wrong person, or you’re about to follow the wrong course of action. In other words, you have completely misunderstood something or are totally in error. Some similar expressions and words include (to be) under the wrong impression, ill-advised, way off course, misinformed, and on the wrong track. How did the phrase originate? Picture a dog thinking that it has chased a cat up into a particular tree, when, in fact, the cat has somehow escaped. The dog, unaware that the cat is gone, stands by the trunk and keeps on “barking up the wrong tree.” An example of how the phrase is used in everyday conversation is:
Sheryl: Ellen thinks she can just pop over to Japan and get a job teaching English. Is that true?
Bob: No, she’s BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE. These days, no English school will hire anyone who doesn’t have a suitable university degree.
What, then, is a phrasal verb? It’s an idiomatic phrase made up of a verb and another element such as a particle, preposition, or combination of both. Phrasal verbs have precise meanings and must be used carefully. For example, if you ask a tailor or seamstress to “take in” your jeans by three inches when you meant to say “take up” by three inches, your jeans will probably feel pretty snug when you get them back. Why? Because in this case “take in” means to make smaller—that is, tightening the waistline by three inches. “Take up,” on the other hand, means to make shorter, as in taking three inches off the leg. (Both phrasal verbs, by the way, have several other meanings and uses.) Because of these subtle differences, the meanings of phrasal verbs, like those of idiomatic phrases, must be learned. Most of the time, you can’t “make sense of” of a phrasal verb or idiom just by looking at it.
In this new season of KA Wordcast: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, each week we will examine a number of useful idiomatic expressions and word combinations that you hear and see all the time in American and British English. We will give you detailed explanations of and several sample sentences for each new idiom or phrasal verb, as well as some useful synonyms and equivalents. We want to make sure that you understand each and every expression well enough to put it to good use in your own writing and everyday conversation.
In last week’s episode, we examined ten idioms and phrasal verbs based on the word “feel.” If you’ve missed the broadcast, be sure to check it out on the KA Voicecast website. Today, as our opening song “Back for Good” by Take That suggests, we will look at ten idiomatic expressions based on the adjective “good.” “Feel free” to download this lesson, which is available in PDF format. There is also an exercise sheet with a “pre-test” exercise that you can download from the website to test your knowledge before the lesson begins. Then, after the podcast, you can check to see how well you did and how much you have learned. Only “good” can come out of reviewing and practicing what you’ve learned over and over again. It is the best and fastest way to improve your English. And that is exactly what these KA Wordcasts are all about.
1. FOR GOOD
Our first phrase, FOR GOOD, can be understood if you listen closely to the lyrics of our opening song, “Back for Good” by Take That. So before we talk about the literal meaning of FOR GOOD, let’s listen to the chorus, just for fun.
Whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn’t mean it
I just want you back for good.
As you might have guessed, FOR GOOD means permanently or forever. It is used in a similar way to forever and ever, until the end of time, forever more, for always, and once and for all. Look at the following examples.
Brent: Do you know if Courtney has gone back to live in America FOR GOOD?
Annie: I think so. I wish she would come back, though. She was a really great teacher.
Janine: I thought Lily Allen said she was going to retire from show business, but she was on the telly last night plugging her new single.
Matthew: Well, you know how celebrities are. Once they get used to the limelight, they never stay away FOR GOOD. There’s always a comeback tour or reunion of some kind.
With his contract with Manchester United due to expire and no word on any new deals, most people expect Rio Ferdinand to retire from football and hang up his boots FOR GOOD.
Hunter gave up smoking FOR GOOD nearly ten years ago. Now, it’s hard to believe that he was ever a smoker.
2. (GET) OFF TO A GOOD START
To (GET) OFF TO A GOOD START is used when you want to talk about a particular activity that has started in a favorable way and looks as if it will turn out as expected. You can apply this idiom to just about any situation, project, or activity, but especially to those that you have to give a bit of forethought and planning to. (GET) OFF TO A GOOD START can also be used to say that something such as a novel, film, television show, sports game or match, or even a date has started well and shows promise of being interesting or exciting (though it may not necessarily work out that way).
Zara’s first day as a teacher GOT OFF TO A GOOD START when all of her students greeted her enthusiastically and seemed eager to learn.
Mom: How did your first driving lesson go, Jordan?
Jordan: I think it went okay. I didn’t hit anything, or anyone, for that matter.
Mom: You’re OFF TO A GOOD START then.
Steve: You’re down four pounds this week, Ella. Well done! You’re OFF TO A GOOD START.
Ella: Thanks, Steve. I couldn’t do this fitness and diet regime without your support and guidance.
Jun’s first date with Amika got OFF TO A (REALLY) GOOD START. They soon discovered that they had a lot in common, including a passion for, of all things, lacrosse and Alfred Hitchcock movies.
The basketball game got OFF TO A GOOD START with our team leading 21-16 after the first quarter, but it quickly went downhill from there. We ended up losing 87-60.
3. MAKE GOOD TIME
You can use to MAKE GOOD TIME when you want to say that you are proceeding towards some destination at a reasonable or better-than-expected pace. The phrase is almost always used to talk about traveling, though, as in the last sample sentence below, you can also use it to talk about other things that need to get done on time.
Howard and I were running late, as usual, but we MADE GOOD TIME on the freeway and arrived at the airport in plenty of time.
It’s a long drive to Glasgow, but we should MAKE GOOD TIME if we leave early in the morning, provided the kids don’t have to take too many toilet breaks along the way.
Angie: Wow! You’re here already. I didn’t expect you until two o’clock.
Peter: We got pretty lucky with the train connections and MADE BETTER TIME than we’d anticipated. I hope you don’t mind us being early.
Thanks to the great weather we’ve been having, the carpenters are MAKING (REALLY) GOOD TIME on our new roof. We thought it would take them much longer.
4. AS GOOD AS NEW
The phrase AS GOOD AS NEW is more of a cliché than an idiom, but it is so commonly used that we should take a look at it. AS GOOD AS NEW literally means that something is in excellent condition because it has been very well looked after and cared for. Similar expressions include like new, well preserved, and in perfect shape. Look at the following examples.
The seller on eBay had described the six-man tent as hardly used and AS GOOD AS NEW, but when it arrived, I was very disappointed to find that many of the poles were missing.
I bought eight books this afternoon at the used bookshop in town for £2, and all of them but one were AS GOOD AS NEW.
Lauren: I can’t believe you donated my prom dress to charity, Mom. I only wore it once, and it was still AS GOOD AS NEW!
Jillian: I didn’t think you’d mind since it’s just been hanging in the closet gathering dust for the last five years.
GOOD AS NEW can also mean that something or someone is, thanks to repairs or treatment, in almost the same condition as it or he or she was before being broken, damaged, or injured. Here are some examples.
Rebecca: I’ve only had my new iPad for a week, and I’ve already cracked the screen. Apple wants to charge me a fortune to fix it. What should I do?
Taylor: Well, I know a guy who can fix it so it’s AS GOOD AS NEW—for half the price Apple charges. Do you want his number?
Last night, instead of staying up late watching TV and surfing the net, Lydia came home from band practice, ate a light dinner, and went straight to bed. In the morning, she felt well rested and AS GOOD AS NEW.
Dr. Garland: Just stay off your ankle as best you can for a couple of days, and you should be AS GOOD AS NEW in no time.
Samantha: Thanks, Dr. Garland. I’m so relieved it’s just sprained and not broken.
5. IN GOOD HANDS
To say that you are IN GOOD HANDS means that you are in someone else’s (a doctor’s, a teacher’s, a counselor’s, for example) safe and competent care. In other words, you or someone that you care about is being handled efficiently and expertly by another person whom you can trust and who knows what he or she is doing. IN GOOD HANDS can also be used to talk about things like projects or assignments at work or repair jobs on cars, appliances, and the home. To be in capable hands and well looked after are close equivalents. By the way, if you want to make the phrase a little more emphatic, you can also say IN EXCELLENT HANDS.
Kenny: Joanne and I left the kids with Sophie from across the street for the first time tonight, and we’re both a bit anxious.
Carrie: You don’t need to worry. Sophie Jenkins is a lovely girl and a terrific babysitter. Your children are IN GOOD HANDS.
Knowing that my son is IN GOOD HANDS and that he is receiving the best childcare possible at Kiddies Academy gives me great peace of mind.
Jennifer: I hope you can fix whatever the problem is. I’d be lost without my laptop!
Clerk: Your laptop is IN GOOD HANDS, ma’am. All our engineers are highly trained professionals who take pride in their work.
Your grandmother is still in Recovery, but she is IN EXCELLENT HANDS, Mr. Russell. Nurses will stay with her for the next few crucial hours, and the doctor will be making his rounds soon.
IN GOOD HANDS can also mean that something such as money you have invested or a business you own is managed or cared for with great care and skill.
I’m not entirely convinced that the money we have in our South African bank account is IN GOOD HANDS. We’ve had identity-theft problems before, and nothing was ever done to reimburse us for our loss.
I can say with strictest confidence that your fast-food franchise is IN GOOD HANDS. The manager is very astute and regularly comes up with ingenious marketing ideas that are drawing in more and more customers.
6. MAKE GOOD ON
To MAKE GOOD ON something such as a promise or a debt means to fulfill the promise or to repay the debt. It can also be used to talk about warnings or threats. Similar expressions include make (something) happen, realize, bring to completion, reimburse, pay back, settle a debt, and carry out.
The McCulloch family MADE GOOD ON their pledge to donate $10 for every mile I completed in the charity walk-a-thon that I took part in last weekend. Their donation came to $200.
A couple of months ago, Oscar backed into and flattened our shed with his SUV, but he’s already MADE GOOD ON his promise to get us a new one.
Anthony: I really do want to MAKE GOOD ON the loan you gave me, but I just don’t have the spare cash right now.
Vicky: I understand. How about if we sat down and worked out a plan for you to pay me back in easy monthly installments?
Last night, my dad MADE GOOD ON his threat to disconnect our satellite TV after he walked in on the three of us bickering once again over what to watch.
When we say that something LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER, we imply that it seems fine in theory, but that it may not work out in practice or in the real world. You can use the phrase to talk or write about anything from a written plan, a design, a candidate for a job, or even how a government is run. You can also use it a little ironically to talk about a person—like a potential date, say. In theory, hypothetically speaking, and on the face of it are two good synonyms. Look at the following examples.
Your proposal for improving the office work environment LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER, but I’m afraid it is just not financially feasible.
Lesotho’s ambitious plan to use its natural resources to produce power for its two million citizens LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER, but it may prove very difficult to realize.
All four of the candidates we’ve interviewed so far had teaching experience and LOOKED GOOD ON PAPER, but unfortunately, none of them performed well during their trial lesson.
Hannah: This guy sounds perfect for you, Kaylee. He’s a Harvard graduate and a doctor, and he volunteers at the local Boys and Girls Club.
Kaylee: Well, he may LOOK GOOD ON PAPER, but if he’s so perfect, what’s he doing on a dating website?
The idea behind Communism is quite admirable and LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER, but the creation of a true Communist state is all but impossible, as human greed will always factor in.
8. PUT IN A GOOD WORD FOR (someone)
To PUT IN A GOOD WORD FOR someone means to say something that makes him or her appear “good” (effective, reliable, trustworthy, kind, and so on) to someone else. In other words, you praise, recommend, and support that person. You can also use the expression to talk about something you’ve made, written, proposed, or planned.
I really want to get accepted to Meiji University. I hope Mr. Sato PUT IN A GOOD WORD FOR me in his recommendation letter.
Jenna: I’m sure you’ll get the job. I’ve PUT IN A GOOD WORD FOR you with the boss.
Myles: Thanks, Jenna. I really appreciate it.
Kim: I submitted my article on water conservation to the editor.
Jack: It’s a good piece, Kim. I’ll PUT IN A GOOD WORD FOR it.
The eight “good”-based idiomatic expressions we have looked at so far have all had positive meanings and uses (with the possible exception of TO MAKE GOOD ON A THREAT). Our final two phrases for today, UP TO NO GOOD and COME TO NO GOOD, have negative implications and are quite informal, even a bit slangy. Nonetheless, they are “good to know.”
9. UP TO NO GOOD
A person who is UP TO NO GOOD is either already doing something bad or behaving in such a way as to make other people suspect that he or she is about to do something illegal, deceitful, or dishonest. Some close equivalents include misbehaving, being mischievous, looking or asking for trouble, and acting suspiciously. Look at the following examples.
You can always tell when people are UP TO NO GOOD. They refuse to look you in the eye, fidget a lot, and use evasive language.
Phillip: Do you see that man across the street, standing next to the ATM? He’s been there for an hour already watching people as they draw money out, and he keeps checking the machine for something.
Claudia: Hmm. He certainly looks as if he is UP TO NO GOOD. Perhaps we should call the police.
At first the Marauder’s Map looked to Harry like a blank piece of parchment. But when he pointed his wand at it and said, “I solemnly swear that I am UP TO NO GOOD,” a detailed map of Hogwarts suddenly appeared.
In June 2013, George Zimmerman stood trial for shooting a young African American boy who only looked as if he were UP TO NO GOOD. Zimmerman was acquitted, but the controversial case focused attention on the issue of racial profiling and stereotyping in the U.S.
10. COME TO NO GOOD
When we say that someone will COME TO NO GOOD, we mean that he or she will become a “bad” person or end up in serious trouble. Some equivalents and synonyms include come to a bad end, end in tears, come to harm, and get in trouble. We can also use COME TO NO GOOD to talk about plans, investments, business ventures, and the like. The expression NO GOOD CAN/WILL COME OF THIS means much the same thing, as you can see in the last example.
Vanessa’s parents always feared that her new boyfriend Jason would COME TO NO GOOD, and they were right. He was arrested last night for starting a fight and assaulting a police officer.
I knew from the beginning that Justin and Noah’s start-up would COME TO NO GOOD. If you ask me, friends should never go into business together.
Journalist: Senator, do you think America should get involved in the Japan-Korea dispute over the naming of the Sea of Japan?
Senator: As far as I am concerned, NO GOOD CAN COME OF our involvement. Both countries are U.S. allies, and I firmly believe that they must work their differences out on their own, without any third-party interference.
We’ve looked at ten very useful idiomatic expressions all based on the word “GOOD.” But there are many, many more that we don’t have time to examine them all in detail today. So let’s just take a quick look at some of the most important. (We’ll be looking at some of these in more detail in future episodes.)
ALL IN GOOD TIME is used when you want to tell someone to wait patiently for something and to not be in such a hurry, as in:
Samuel: I’m starving! When will Dad be home so we can eat?
Mom: ALL IN GOOD TIME, Samuel. Why don’t you read awhile and take your mind off your stomach?
When we use the phrase AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY, we mean that perhaps this (right now) may not be the best time to do something, but that it is no worse than (just as good as) any other time. Here’s an example.
Brenda: Do you think we should put our house up for sale now?
David: I suppose now is AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY. It’s hard to tell what the market will do in the coming months.
The similar phrase AS GOOD A PLACE AS ANY is used to talk about a particular place (school, restaurant, vacation spot, etc.) that may not be ideal, but that is no worse than (just as good as) any other place, as in:
Natalie: All the cool, shady spots seem to have been taken. Why don’t we set up the picnic here?
Carl: Here is AS GOOD A PLACE AS ANY. Besides, it’s pretty close to the café and restrooms.
AS GOOD AS GOLD describes a person (usually a child) who is very well behaved and obedient.
Magie: Did Ethan behave himself today?
Ferris: He was AS GOOD AS GOLD. He can come over and play anytime.
You can use the phrase GOOD TO GO to tell someone that you have done everything necessary to get ready to go out, prepare a venue for a meeting, get a machine or appliance ready to use, and so on. But because this expression is a bit slangy, it’s best to use it with friends and close acquaintances only.
Chris: Kelly, are you ready to leave yet? If we’re going to get there before the play starts, we need to hustle.
Kelly: I’ll be GOOD TO GO in a few minutes. I just need to straighten my hair, brush my teeth, put on my make up, and pick out a dress.
Office worker: How’s the printer? Is it fixed?
Repairman: Yep, it’s GOOD TO GO.
Finally, you can use the expression AS GOOD AS IT GETS to talk about something (a situation, a condition, an arrangement) that is unlikely to improve or get better. In this sense, AS GOOD AS IT GETS has a somewhat melancholy feel to it and expresses disappointment or hopelessness.
“I’d always imagined that being married would be like a fairy tale or a romantic movie,” Patricia said as she picked her husband’s dirty socks up off the bathroom floor. “I don’t want to believe for a moment that this is AS GOOD AS IT GETS.”
But AS GOOD AS IT GETS can also have a more positive meaning. You can use it to talk about something that is so good that nothing is likely to be better. Here are two examples.
The sushi at this shop is AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Arthur. You’ll never get anything so fresh and delicious in Seattle.
Alice Munro’s new collection of short stories is AS GOOD AS contemporary fiction GETS.
Now that you have a “good” understanding of the ten key idioms and phrasal verbs we have examined today, why not challenge yourself and download the short “pre-test” exercise we have prepared for you? (It’s available on the KA Voicecast website.) We’ve also provided answer sheets so you can see how well you did. Repeated reviewing and practicing is the best way to improve your English. And nowhere is this truer than with idioms and phrasal verbs. The more you practice “going over” them, the better.
PDF DOWNLOAD KA WORDCAST Lesson 3 EXERCISE
We’ll be back again next week with lots more useful phrasal verbs based on the word “come” for you to study and get to know.