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KA WORDCAST: IDIOMS AND PHRASAL VERBS
LESSON 7: THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL
The Way You Make Me Feel —Michael Jackson
For the past couple of months, we have been looking at essential English idioms, phrasal verbs, and other everyday expressions, and today we have twelve more for you to study, learn, and put to good use.
What do we mean by “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, it must be learned. There are more than 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language, and most have meanings so “separate from” their literal meanings that unless you know them, they can sound like complete nonsense.
One good example is the odd-sounding expression, IN A PICKLE.
Let’s say a friend calls you in the middle of the night and shouts into the phone, “Come pick me up! I’m in a pickle!” You might react by saying, “What on earth are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense.” But a native English speaker will quickly put on his/her shoes, grab the car keys, and head out the door. Why? Contrary to how it sounds, to be IN A PICKLE does not mean to be stuck in a jar of sour, salty, or spicy vegetables. No, when a friend says he/she is IN A PICKLE, native speakers know that he/she is in a difficult situation or has a tough problem to solve. The great 17th-century English diarist Samuel Pepys was probably the first to use “IN A PICKLE” in the sense that we know it today. When he recorded that he was, “At home with the workmen all the afternoon, our house being in a most sad pickle,” he was alluding to the image of being as confused as the pickled vegetables in a jar. So I guess the phrase in a way makes sense after all. Today, we usually use IN A PICKLE very casually to refer to small, everyday problems or troubles—nothing too serious.
Sadie: I’m IN a bit of A PICKLE, and I’m wondering if you could help.
Lila: Sure, as long as you’re not asking me to loan you money.
What, then, is a phrasal verb? A phrasal verb is an idiomatic expression 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.
A phrase like MIX UP is a good case in point. Depending on the context it’s used in, MIX UP can mean many different things. Here they are in the order of frequency of use. (1) To confuse someone or something for someone or something else, as in: “Ethan and Tray look so much alike, it’s easy to MIX them UP.” (2) To put things together without any order, as in: “I just sorted all the knives and forks in the drawer and you’ve MIXED them UP again.” (3) To make or be confused, as in: “Perry got MIXED UP and went to the job interview on the wrong day.” (4) To be involved in something, usually something bad, illegal, or unpleasant, as in: “I think Max is MIXED UP in some kind of illegal gambling operation.” (5) To spend time with someone who has a bad influence on you, as in: “Why would you want to get MIXED UP with that crowd? They’re bad news.” By the way, the adjective MIXED UP describes someone who has a lot of emotional problems, while the noun MIX-UP is a mistake or a problem that happens because someone is confused about details.
Because of such subtle differences in nuance and usage, the meanings of phrasal verbs, like those of idiomatic phrases, must be learned. You can’t usually “make out” what an idiom means just by looking at it. That’s why each week we offer detailed explanations of and several sample sentences for each new idiom or phrasal verb, as well as useful synonyms and equivalents. We want you to master each expression so you can put it to use in your own writing and everyday conversation.
In last week’s episode, we looked at twelve idioms and phrasal verbs about sleep. If you missed the lesson, be sure to check it out on the KA Voicecast website. Today, as our opening song “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson suggests, we will examine twelve phrasal verbs and idioms based on the verb “make.” Be sure to download this lesson, which is available in PDF format, for your reference. There is also an activity sheet with a “pre-test” exercise that you can download from the website to see how much you know (or don’t know) before the lesson begins. Then, after the podcast, you can go back and check to see how well you did and how much you have “picked up.” This won’t be the first or the last time you hear this, but it’s always worth repeating: reviewing and practicing over and over again is the best way to “soup up” your English speaking and writing skills. And that is precisely what these Wordcasts are all about.
1. MAKE UP
MAKE UP has “tons of” meanings and uses, so many, in fact, that we could easily dedicate an entire Wordcast to it. For today, we will look at a few of the most common and important. But you can find lots more in EXTRAS!First of all, to MAKE UP means to invent an explanation for something or to tell a lie, especially to escape punishment or to avoid an unpleasant or embarrassing situation. Some common synonyms include fabricate, invent, drum up, and cook up.
Lesley MADE UP some excuse about her daughter being sick so she could get out of having to go to the PTA meeting.
Nada: Is it true that Victoria worked as a nanny for a famous movie star?
Joseph: No, I think she just MADE that UP. You know what a fibber she can be.
One former News of the World reporter claims that journalists at the newspaper regularly MADE UP stories and fabricated articles under pressure from management.
More positively, MAKE UP can also mean to invent an imaginative story or poem.
During their class assembly, the children stood on the stage in front of all the parents and recited poems they had MADE UP about their favorite movie or TV character.
Story Cubes is a popular game for kids. It’s a great way to encourage them to use their imaginations and MAKE UP stories.
If you have missed a test or failed to make an appointment or carry out a duty, you’ll probably have to MAKE it UP, which means to take the test or reschedule the appointment or work for a later time.
Todd: Miss Brogan, can I MAKE UP the test I missed yesterday? I wasn’t feeling well at all.
Teacher: Of course, Todd. Why don’t you come in after school today?
Sam: Would it be okay if I left work a little early today? I’ve had a toothache for days, and I’ve managed to schedule a dentist’s appointment for this afternoon.
Manager: That’s fine, but I expect you to MAKE UP the time tomorrow.
MAKE UP also means to become friends again after an argument. Reconcile, restore friendly relations, settle differences, and bury the hatchet are close equivalents.
Malcolm: I know you’re angry with Megan, but you two are such good friends. It would be a shame if you didn’t MAKE UP.
Daphne: I sent her a text a couple of days ago, but she hasn’t responded. So it’s up to her.
My sister and I had a horrible row last week, but we MADE UP this morning. Neither of us could even remember what we’d been fighting about.
MAKE UP also means to prepare something or to put or mix something together.
The pharmacist will need to MAKE UP your prescription, so it will take about ten minutes.
Husband: Is there anything I can do to help out?
Wife: I’ve MADE UP the shopping list for our camping trip. Would you mind going to the store for me?
You can ask the florist to MAKE UP a special bouquet of non-allergenic flowers for your mom.
An important phrase related to MAKE UP is to MAKE UP ONE’S MIND, which means to make a decision.
Counselor : Have you decided on a major yet?
Student: I know a degree in business would be a wise career choice, but I’m really interested in cultural anthropology. Do I have to MAKE UP MY MIND right now?
I wasn’t sure what to do for my gap year, but now I’ve MADE UP MY MIND. I’m going to go backpacking in Europe.
**For more meanings and uses of MAKE UP, check out our new feature, EXTRAS!
2. MAKE UP FOR something
To MAKE UP FOR something means to compensate for or replace something that has been lost or damaged.
People tend to think that sleeping in on weekends MAKES UP FOR staying up late and losing sleep during the week, but that’s simply not true.
The company offered the families of the victims a large financial settlement, but no amount of money can MAKE UP for the loss of a close family member.
MAKE UP FOR also means that something good makes something bad or unpleasant seem less so.
The fantastic spring weather we’ve had over the past couple of days almost MAKES UP FOR our cold, wet winter.
Finally, MAKE UP FOR can also mean to do something nice for someone to make something you said or did that was unkind seem less bad. Atone for, make amends for, and compensate for are near equivalents.
Rosemary: I can’t believe you forgot my birthday!
Roger: I’m really sorry. I’ll MAKE UP FOR it, I promise. How about if I take you to that West End musical you’ve been dying to see?
I said some unkind things that I sincerely regret. Is there anything I can do to MAKE UP FOR it?
One commonly used related expression is to MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME, which has several uses. Most literally, it means to hurry because you are late.
We got caught in a traffic jam and were going to be late for the concert, so we had to go without dinner to MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME.
MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME can also refer to work or study.
We’re way behind schedule, so to MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME, I’m going to hire two temps until we get caught up.
More metaphorically, to MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME means to enjoy experiences that you earlier missed because you were too busy or didn’t have the opportunity.
Harry didn’t have a chance to see the world when he was young, but he has been MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME since he retired and has already traveled to Africa and South America.
3. MAKE IT UP TO someone
To MAKE IT UP TO someone is similar to the second usage of MAKE UP FOR above. It means to do something nice to make up for or compensate for something unkind or unpleasant you have done.
Alicia: I’m so sorry I couldn’t be at your graduation ceremony, Marcia.
Marcia: That’s okay. I know you’re busy.
Alicia: Is there any way I can MAKE IT UP to you?
I’m sorry we can’t take you to the aquarium today as we promised, but we’ll MAKE IT UP TO you soon, okay?
Tom: Thanks for helping me write my thesis. I’ll MAKE IT UP to you, I promise.
Kim: There’s no need for that. It was my pleasure.
4. MAKE OUT
The phrase MAKE OUT also has several meanings. First of all, it means to just or barely be able to see or hear someone or something that is faint, blocked, or hazy. Discern, distinguish, perceive, and identify are close equivalents.
This inscription in this old copy of The Secret Garden is so faint that I am only able to MAKE OUT the first few words. But I believe the author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, signed it.
That’s Mt. Fuji, over there to your right. You can just MAKE the silhouette OUT in the haze.
I couldn’t quite MAKE OUT what the guest speaker said. His New Zealand accent was hard for me to catch.
I’m a bit hard of hearing and have an especially difficult time MAKING OUT what people say when there’s a lot of ambient noise.
MAKE OUT can also be used to mean to try understand a person’s character. Similar expressions include work out, get, figure out, make head(s) or tail(s) of, and make of (see below).
I just can’t MAKE Aaron OUT. He’s friendly and outgoing one moment and reserved and surly the next.
Katy: That new girl, Kim is rather odd, isn’t she? I can’t MAKE her OUT.
Brenda: I think she’s been home-schooled until now. She’s probably not used to being around so many people.
Another usage for MAKE OUT is to pretend that something is true.
Marina MAKES OUT that she’s traveled all over Asia, when in fact she’s only been to Hong Kong. And that was just the one time.
Adrian MAKES OUT as if he’s come into a big inheritance, but I think he just took out another loan on his house.
MAKE OUT also has a specialized usage. It means to write a check (cheque) to or for someone specific.
Buyer: Who should I MAKE this check OUT to?
Seller: Please MAKE it OUT to ESL Publishing.
Western Union MADE the check OUT to me but spelled my name wrong. Can I still cash it?
**For more meanings and uses of MAKE OUT, check out our new feature, EXTRAS!
5. MAKE FOR someone or something
The phrase to MAKE FOR someone or something has two different uses. First of all, it means to move in a certain direction. Synonyms include head for or towards.
If the fire alarm goes off, MAKE straight FOR the emergency exits in a calm and orderly fashion.
I saw Jasmine standing on the other side of the banquet hall, but I avoided making eye contact because I didn’t feel like speaking to her. But then she spotted me and MADE right FOR me.
MAKE FOR is also used to mean to help make something possible or to get a particular result.
Librarian: The books on this shelf have extra-large print, which MAKES FOR easier reading.
Jake: Great. Thank you. My dad will be very pleased with the selection you have here.
If you ask me, it is mutual respect and honesty MAKE FOR a successful relationship.
FYI, the informal phrase to be MADE FOR EACH OTHER describes two people who are compatible or are perfect partners, often because they have similar personalities and interests.
We all thought that Penny and Roger were MADE FOR EACH OTHER, so we were surprised to hear that they had broken up over summer vacation.
6. MAKE AWAY WITH something
To MAKE AWAY WITH means to escape with something, usually something that has been stolen. MAKE OFF WITH is a near equivalent.
The burglars MADE AWAY WITH my laptop and external hard drive. I hadn’t backed anything up to iCloud, so I’m in a real pickle.
Police Officer: Is there anything else missing?
Roberta: I think the thieves MADE OFF WITH some of my husband’s golf clubs, but I won’t know for sure until he comes home and checks for himself.
7. MAKE INTO something
MAKE INTO means to change someone or something so that he/she or it becomes something else. Synonyms include turn into and be transformed into.
That short story Wendy wrote for her creative writing class last year was bought by a studio and is being MADE INTO a full-length feature film.
Parker: What are you planning to do with your son’s bedroom when he moves out?
Natalie: We’re thinking about MAKING it INTO a hobby room for my husband’s model airplanes.
The video Frank posted of his sons playing Star Wars in their mother’s bathrobes went viral and MADE the two boys INTO instant Internet stars.
8. MAKE OF
To MAKE OF someone or something means to understand him/her or it in a particular way. It is almost always used in a question or negative sentence, as in these examples:
What do you MAKE OF the new teacher, Mr. Grey? The kids don’t seem nearly as enthusiastic about school as they were when Miss Peddle was their teacher.
I’m not sure what to MAKE OF this traffic fine I received in the mail. I was away in San Francisco that day and didn’t even have my car.
To MAKE something OF something means to use it to your advantage or in order to be successful.
It’s supposed to be a beautiful day tomorrow for a change, so let’s MAKE the most OF it and cut the grass and tidy up the yard.
Axel: Warren’s decided to sell his condo and invest the money in a new IT venture.
Zoey: Well, if anyone can MAKE a go OF it, it’s Warren.
You have a natural musical talent. It would be a shame if you didn’t MAKE the most OF it.
9. MAKE DO
MAKE DO (usually followed by “with”) means to manage to live without things that you would like to have or with things that are not as nice or appropriate as what you want or need. Settle for is the closest synonym.
Half the staff is out sick with the flu, so we’ll just have to MAKE DO with the personnel we have.
We didn’t have enough cutlery for everyone at the party, so we MADE DO with plastic knives and forks.
I didn’t have the proper paints and brushes, so I MADE DO with these crayons, and the poster turned out fine.
10. MAKE SURE
To MAKE SURE means to look at something to be certain it’s OK or to be certain that something happens or is done correctly. Synonyms include confirm, ensure, verify, and corroborate.
I think I’ll call Penny and MAKE SURE she’s all right. She seemed a little down at work today.
Sarah looked around to MAKE SURE no one was looking over her shoulder at the cash machine before entering her PIN.
Before handing in your essay, go over it once more to MAKE SURE you haven’t made any careless errors.
Even if it meant having to work two jobs, April wanted to MAKE SURE she could afford to send her two children to college someday.
Laurie: MAKE SURE that no one finds out about this. I don’t want everyone to know that I’m quitting my job next month.
Xavier: Your secret is safe with me, Laurie.
11. MAKE ROOM
To MAKE ROOM (often followed by “for”) means to provide space for someone or something by moving something or someone else. MAKE WAY is a closely related idiom. Look at the following examples.
The council approved plans for more than a dozen houses to be demolished off Military Road to MAKE ROOM for another shopping center.
David: Would you mind moving your chair down a bit to MAKE ROOM for Percy?
Lisa: Why can’t he sit at the other side of the table?
We’ll have to MAKE ROOM in the garage if we want to put a ping-pong table in there. The bicycles and all those storage boxes will have to be moved to the shed.
The paramedics have just arrived. Please MAKE WAY so they can pass and get into the house.
This is a good place to mention the phrase MAKE TIME FOR, which means to set aside a block of time for some certain purpose.
I always MAKE TIME in the afternoon FOR a short nap.
I know how busy you are, but could you MAKE a little TIME FOR me sometime this week. I need to go over the ad artwork with you.
12. MAKE OVER
The phrase MAKE OVER means to change or improve the appearance of someone or something. Keep in mind that the noun MAKEOVER means a set of changes that make a person or thing look much better, as in the second example below.
Phil and Claire bought an old church, which they plan to MAKE OVER into a bed and breakfast.
Marion: Gary suggested that we MAKE the storeroom in the building basement OVER into a fitness center for the staff.
Timothy: Great idea. Why don’t you find out how much that would cost?
It’s been ages since we’ve had any work done to our house. It really is in need of a good MAKEOVER.
Jun: I’m thinking of having a MAKEOVER done.
Hanna: You don’t mean plastic surgery, do you?
MAKE OVER also has a more specialized legal meaning—to make someone else the owner of something. Leave to, pass on to, bequeath to, entrust to, bestow on, and will to are commonly used synonyms.
Before Mr. Lawson passed on, he rewrote his will and MADE OVER his entire estate to the British Heart Foundation.
The deed to the house has been MADE OVER in my daughter’s name.
Don’t forget that many more great “MADE”-based phrasal verbs are covered in EXTRAS!, which you can download in PDF format from the KA Voicecast website, print out, and keep for reference and review. We will take a more detailed look at some of the phrases in today’s glossary in future episodes, so be sure to keep coming back.
Now that you have “caught on” to the twelve key phrases we have examined today, you can check out your score on the “pre-test” exercise (we’ve provided answer sheets).
We’ll be back again next week with lots more useful phrasal verbs for you to study and get to know!