Common Phrases: Do’s and Don’ts
In English, we have a variety of common phrases for every situation. From multiple ways of saying hello, goodbye, and how are you, learning the most natural way can be difficult. The English language has common everyday phrases such as:
I have no idea.
I agree 100%.
Have a good one!
Watch where you’re going!
Living the dream!
There are also more obscure phrases, called idioms, such as:
That puzzle is a piece of cake. (easy)
All he got was a slap on the wrist. (light punishment)
We’re all in the same boat. (same situation)
She’s a loose cannon. (unpredictable)
Hold your horses! (Wait)
Don’t beat around the bush. (make excuses)
We don’t see eye to eye. (don’t agree)
You’re on the ball today! (doing great)
When learning common phrases such as these, you need to follow some basic rules in order to sound as natural as possible when speaking English.
Do research. Learn what common phrases are actually used and are popular today. Once you know which ones are actually common, learn them. Learn their meaning, the pronunciation of each word, and when to use them in a sentence. Doing your research will allow you to use the phrase more accurately and naturally.
We tend to use more basic common phrases nowadays. Simple phrases like, ‘Take care’, can be used every day. Idioms may be used less often. Saying a phrase like, ‘beat around the bush’ can only be used in the right situation.
Do practice. Practice using common phrases with your friends and family. This will allow you to make a mistake without feeling embarrassed. They will be able to tell you if the phrase fits into the conversation and if you’re using it correctly. Practicing will also help you with pronunciation, word order, and intonation.
Do be adventurous. Get excited about using common phrases in your conversations. English speakers know and use common phrases all the time. Trying out new common phrases and using the ones you already know will allow you to become a more natural English speaker.
Do have fun. Experimenting with new phrases in English is one of the best aspects of learning the language. Having fun and not being afraid to make a mistake will also be your key to success. When you are having fun learning English, you will learn it faster. You will become more natural and use common phrases with ease.
Don’t overuse. Try not to use the same phrase over and over again, unless it works well in the conversation. Also, using too many phrases such as idioms can make your story confusing, awkward, or rehearsed. Using phrases like this can take away from what you’re actually trying to say.
Don’t sound robotic. Try to sound natural when using common phrases. When practicing new phrases so much, it can sound rehearsed because you’re trying to memorise it and say it correctly. This makes the phrase feel awkward and in this situation, it would be better not to use it at all.
Don’t force it. Don’t add a phrase into a conversation just because you know it. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it. Many idioms that ESL students learn are outdated and rarely used. Again, forcing a common phrase into the conversation can make it awkward for the listener.
Saying the phrase, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs,’ is very outdated and feels unnatural. Most people would say the phrase, ‘It’s pouring,’ and this fits into the conversation more naturally.
Don’t go in blind. Only use a common phrase if you know what it means. The meaning of a phrase or idiom can be totally different from the words within the phrase.
The phrase ‘tough cookie’, has nothing to do with cookies. If I say, ‘She is a tough cookie’, this means the girl is strong. Saying something ‘cost an arm and a leg’ doesn’t have any connection to arms and legs. It means that something is expensive.
Even though there are so many ways to say so many things, try to have fun with learning English. Explore different phrases, experiment with new and old phrases to see which ones work best for you, and enjoy using new phrases in your conversations. This will result in a more natural and free-flowing conversation.
By Ashlee Fisher