Tag Archives: language use

So big!

Say it isn’t So!


Say it isn't so, Wilbur comic strip This expression means, “tell me it is NOT true!” or “I hope that is not so.”

The female comic book character here must be thinking, “Say it isn’t so!,” when she learns that she has been leaning up against wet paint.

In this title, “Say it isn’t So,” so means “thus,” or “this way.”

Let’s look at a more common use of so, and the purpose of today’s blog:  the use of so as an intensive.  When paired with an adjective so magnifies, increases, or intensifies the sense of what it is describing (much like the word such). However….

There is SO much confusion between such and so…

1. Such

Let’s take a look at how to use such.

If you are describing a person, place, or thing, you will use such.  Use such with nouns and noun phrases.

For example:

Malta is not such a big country.  I don’t think that is such a good idea. That was such a great dinner.

Look at those sentences again. Notice that such is followed by “a”  in those examples. Of course if the noun doesn’t take an article then such is used without it (see A, An, or The?…THAT is the question! for article use and non-use). For example: They have such great service at that hotel.

   Tip:  don’t use such with kind.

This site explains that such is an intensifier, but “kind” cannot be intensified so it doesn’t work * http://linguapress.com/grammar/points/such.htm *.  In other words, the phrase “such kind” is NOT grammatically correct. It isn’t kind (to your teacher) to use such with kind!

To say “this type” simply use such in front of the noun.  Yenta the matchmaker from my favorite musical Fiddler on the Roof, uses such in this manner:

“From such children come other children.”

Additionally, when such is substituted for this or these, “such” carries an enhanced negative meaning.  So, “this type of clothing”  is neutral, but “such type of clothing” makes it sound disdainful. If I really disliked a certain fashion, I might say, “I would NEVER wear such type of clothing.”

Okay. That seems simple enough: we use such with nouns as an intensive, or 2. to mean this type (like Yenta).

2. So

So, let’s look at the use of so using similar sentences to the ones we just used:

Malta is not so big. I don’t think that idea is so good. That dinner was sooooo delicious!

So is used to describe adjectives.  Think of so like an adjective booster.*

Young children in the US also learn that the answer to, “How big are you?”  Is “SO BIG” accompanied by a gesture of stretching their arms as far apart as possible!

So big!
Q:  How big are you?   Child:   So big!

In the comic strip above, the young man seems like such a nice man. Although the woman asks him if he has come to alibi (which means give an excuse for why he wasn’t where he was supposed to be.  I imagine he must have stood her up* recently).  He doesn’t seem so nice in the last picture however, where he sneers that the bench was just painted.  I think she was angry in the first frame*, but she must be sooooo angry in the last panel.*


So-and-so is a term for an unnamed person.  It can be used 1. to protect someone’s identity, 2. if you have forgotten their name or  it doesn’t matter who they are,  and 3. when what you are saying could apply to anyone. For example: 1. So-and-so made a complaint ., 2. We were talking to so-and-so when the dog got loose. , 3. Art buyers can identify the work of so-and-so through a variety of tells*, including: the colors used, the angle of the brush strokes, and the composition of his/her subject matter.


Much like so-and-so, such-and-such is a term for things, non-specified activity, or stuff. Here is an example of how to use it in a sentence, “If so-and-so were born in such-and-such year, you can calculate his/her age by subtracting their birth year from this year.”  Here is one more, “At camp we spent the day doing such-and-such, but at night we all sang songs and told stories around a campfire.”

My Take On It

There is a suggested lack of a person’s or thing’s importance in the terms “so-and-so” and “such-and-such.” It is as if it is too much trouble to remember or say their name.

There is a story in the Bible of Jesus talking to a crowd of people.  He tells them,

Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” 

(Matthew 10:30, and Luke 12:7).  Can you imagine caring for someone so carefully that you would always know the exact number of hairs on their head?! Well, Jesus said that God loves us that much! He would never call us “So-and-so” in fact you have probably heard the most famous verse in Bible (John 3:16)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

What an incredible way to think about such and so!  God loved us SO much that He gave up His one and only son for our sake.  That is SUCH an amazing thought.

~ Michele

Not Scary

Not scary
There is nothing scary about this.

Expressing emotions:

Are you at a loss, meaning you don’t know what to say or how to react, when it comes to using words like…

Confused or Confusing?, Excited or Exciting?, Scared, Frightened, Terrified, or Scary, Frightening, Terrifying?

The word pairs above should not be scary to English language learners. Take heart!* I will show you something that will make it easy for you to differentiate between the emotions you are feeling and what or who is causing those emotions.

Look carefully at the adjectives below.  HINT: Look at the word endings:

alarmed, annoyed, ashamed, bored, confused, delighted, disappointed, disgusted, disoriented, exasperated, excited,  frightened, frustrated, horrified, humiliated,  insulted, interested, intrigued,  offended, outraged, overwhelmed, relaxed, scared shocked, stunned,  terrifiedtired, and worried .

Do you see?  All those words expressing emotions that are being felt end in “ed.”   Try completing the sentences below with several of those words:

I am/was____, I feel/felt____, or I am/was feeling____*

*Note: Other proper nouns and pronouns can be substituted for “I” in the sentences above. For example:

It/he/she/The US government/Mrs. DeCouto was (feeling)____, They/The Russians were____.

Now, let’s look at the next group of adjectives. HINT: Look at the word endings:

alarming, annoying, boring, confusing, delightful, disappointing, disgusting, disorienting, exciting, frightening, frustrating, horrifying, humiliating, insulting, interesting, intriguing, offensive, outrageous (= maddening), overwhelming, relaxing, scary, shocking, shameful, stunning, terrifying, tiring/tiresome, and worrisome

There is some variety in the word endings above, but for the most part, these words end with “ing.”  Use the second set of words when the subject is causing the emotion.

It/he/she/Mr. Wilson is___, They/Hispanics are___, and…this one is tricky: I am ___ (when I am causing others to have an emotion)

‘ing demonstrates action

Think of it this way,  adding  ‘ing to a verb shows action. For example: As I am writing this blog, I am thinkingtyping, and occasionally  looking things up.* So when I am actively impacting the emotion of others I am _____+ing.

Look at the word pairs again:

Confused / Confusing, Excited / Exciting, Scared/ Scary, Frightened/ Frightening, Terrified/ Terrifying.

When I am exciting, then others are excited by me.  Perhaps they are reading this blog and are excited.  My readers might  exclaim, “I’m not scared of using scary or other adjectives of emotion anymore!  My Virtual English is brilliant!”  In this example I caused the excitement, so that makes me exciting and my readers were excited. Whoop! Whoop!*

Let’s look at some commonly confused words: scary/scared, frightening/frightened, and terrifying/terrified.  Remember the “ed” ending means the emotion that we feel.  I am scared when I have to do something scary like driving in an unfamiliar place in heavy traffic.  When something scary or frightening (things causing those emotions) surprises me then I might say, ” I was frightened.”  Being terrified is being so scared that normal thinking and responses are affected. Someone who is terrified thinks and behaves irrationally, fear is controlling them. (See the My Take on It section below for more about this.)

About love

I am loved. I am loving.  In this pair the emotion I am feeling and expressing can be represented by the “ing” word, loving.

Let’s look at some examples.

She is very loving.  This means that this female (it could be a person or an animal) expresses affection; she will cause you to feel loved. This use follows the pattern that we have been looking at.

I am loving this! This expression means that you are enjoying yourself, you love what you are experiencing.

To be loved means that another loves me.

When I say, “I am loved,” it means I am feeling the love being expressed by someone else (they are loving).

My Take On It  Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG

Nothing Scary About This
Colorado Mountain Scenery

Several years ago,  I went on a Department Head retreat.  All of the company’s leadership participated.  We were taken to a remote (but beautiful) place in the mountains where we were asked to find a quiet place alone where we could consider the question, “What is most important?”

I pondered the question, What matters most to people?, and came to the conclusion that “to love and be loved” is what is most important.  The Bible tells us that we have been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).  The Bible is a story about relationships.  God gives and wants to receive love, true love, not a love out of obligation, but a love that comes from being loved.

We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
Holman Christian Standard Bible 

Knowing that God Himself loves me, no matter what, is exciting and reassuring.

Now, about being terrified…knowing that the most powerful force in the universe loves you and has got your back* should put fear to rest.*   Just prior to the verse quoted above,  John writes,

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear….1 John 4:18

So, this Halloween don’t be frightened… don’t be concerned.  Remember we have a loving God who is waiting for you to love Him in return.  And that’s not scary at all!

Be joyful!, Michele  

The Challenge of Using “Challenging”

Photographing a newborn can be a challenge (for the photographer AND the baby)
Challenge is a misused and misunderstood English word.

It is not uncommon for me to hear a student say enthusiastically,

“We must challenge!”

Huh?*  I think the intention of this rally cry* is, “We must fight!,” or “We must overcome!”

The problem with my students’ cheer is that the verb challenge requires an object, it’s a transitive verb.  We can challenge authority, old ideas, our imagination, and even ourselves and each other!  Things are challenged. We cannot simply “challenge.”

Let’s compare challenge as a noun and as a verb.

Challenge as a noun

There are several ways challenge can be used as a noun.

As in the caption beneath the picture above, when something is described as being a challenge, it means it will require a lot of effort and/or skill.  Obstacles can also be called challenges.

Examples: ♦ The TOEFL* test is a challenge (especially if you don’t prepare beforehand)., ♦ A traveler’s first challenge is to find safe and affordable transportation from the airport to the hotel.

When someone is described as being or presenting a challenge, it means that person is difficult to get along with, or manage.

Example: ♦ “Our new employee is going to be a challenge.”

A challenge can also be a  rally cry.

Challenge Sept. 12, 1962
President John F. Kennedy’s Challenge

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy encouraged Americans to land a man on the moon and bring him safely back. Inspiring a common goal is often called giving a challenge. (Click here for more about John F. Kennedy’s Challenge to the Nation).

The adjectives: Challenging, and Challenged

We often use the word challenging  instead of  the phrase being a challenge.  For example, the sentence, “The TOEFL test is challenging,” means the same as, “The TOEFL test is a challenge.” Likewise, instead of, “Our new employee is going to be a challenge.” I could say, “Our new staff member is going to be challenging.”  

Note: We can’t always make this substitution. In the sentence, “A traveler’s first challenge is to find safe and affordable transportation from the airport to the hotel,”  we can’t use challenging since we are focusing on a specific challenge.

Test yourself!  Look at the caption under the picture of the crying baby again.  Can you rewrite it using challenging instead of a challenge?  (The answer is in the My Take On It  section at the bottom of this post).

Additionally, challenged can be used to indicate a disability or something that is lacking. For example: Visually challenged means a visual impairment. Please note, when talking about people with disabilities it is rude to describe a person by their disability. I will be writing about how to talk about disabilities, as part of my “Tough Topics” series soon. In the meantime please check out the state of Washington’s, Guide to Disability Etiquette and Using Respectful Language in the Workplace.

Challenge as a verb

Using challenge as a noun or adjective is fairly simple.  The real challenge (meaning difficulty) is using challenge as a verb.

Think about John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation again.  A person who is giving a challenge is “challenging others to do something.” It means to encourage others to take action. We can also challenge systems and organizations.  One of my students said,

“I’d like to challenge the current system to become unprejudiced towards Japanese women.”

Her sentence uses challenge correctly. She is saying she wants to push the system to change.

Another student asked if he could challenge his appointment at the consulate.* Answer: No. He was trying to express that he wanted to try to meet with a consular officer earlier than his appointed time.  He could have said, “It might be challenging/a challenge to be seen early at the consulate, but I’m going to try.”

A third student said she would like to challenge business in the US.  Again, no. This idea doesn’t make sense in English.  She was trying to say that she wanted to accept the challenge of doing business in the US.

Not all nouns can be paired with the word challenge.  Let’s look at several examples and definitions of challenge as a verb from Webster’s online Learner’s Dictionary:

challenge 1

challenge verb definition 2

There are three primary uses of challenge as a verb:  1. to question the authority or validity of a person or thing (definitions one and two), 2. to confront someone, or dare someone to compete (definitions two, four, and five), and 3. To challenge someone’s imagination, or be challenged by something or someone is to be pushed, i.e.,  to be encouraged to accomplish something which is difficult (definition three).

Before using challenge as a verb... Click To Tweet, Do you want to express the idea of questioning someone/something, confrontation, or being pushed by someone/something?  And, do you have a subject which is challenging or being challenged by an object?

Things which can be challenged:
Grandkids challenging
My grandkids challenging my patience

Use #1: truth, decisions, statements, rules, reports, results, research, outdated ideas or methods

Use #2: authority, decisions, assumptions

Use #3: minds, imagination, ability, things requiring any skill (athletic, intellectual, dexterity. language, concentration/focus, any skill)

Use #4: “challenge (someone) to a___”: fight, or competition (anything where someone has to prove themselves)

Use #5: people we suspect of not being authorized (intruders, uninvited guests, those who appear too young to purchase or consume alcohol or tobacco, etc).

My Take On It  Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG

Quiz: How can you replace the noun “a challenge” with the adjective “challenging” in the caption above? Answer: Photographing a newborn can be challenging. (If you used another variation of “photographing” such as “taking pictures,” or “snapping photos,” your answer is also correct).

Famous quotes about Challenges:

Accept the challenges, so you may feel the exhilaration of victory.
George S. Patton

Dreams can often become challenging, but challenges are what we live for.
Travis White

I wanted to be scared again… I wanted to feel unsure again. That’s the only way I learn, the only way I feel challenged.
Connie Chung

It’s always the challenge of the future, this feeling of excitement, that drives me.
Yoshihisa Tabuchi

To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist.
Gail Sheehy

Famous Challenges (calls to action):

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Harry S. Truman

Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.     Sai Baba

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.  2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

 Blessings,    Michele  


Peachy Peaches

Just Peachy! A love story


Peachy Feast in the Fields
Palisade Feast in the Fields

The Palisade Peach Festival is just around the corner (meaning it is close).  I was looking through this year’s schedule of events and was reminded (like I am every year at this time) of how my husband and I fell in love.

Errol and I were both working for a healthcare organization in Fruita, Colorado. He was the COO (Chief Operating Officer) and I had just been hired to manage the company’s on-site childcare facility. In other words, he was my boss!

I had moved to Colorado because I needed a support system.  I had left my alcoholic husband at a city mission in Ohio because he was unsafe around our children.   The kids were nine, thirteen, and fifteen at the time.  Our youngest was not adjusting well at all.  In fact she was so angry, and had so much emotional pain that she started cutting.  I remember staring at her arms in disbelief, after she  had cut her wrists multiple times with pieces of broken glass. (For more on the topic of cutting, including how to get help for you or a family member, click here: Teens Health).

I was beside myself* with grief, guilt, and fear all rolled into one.  I called Errol (my boss) and explained what was happening.  I’ll never forget what he told me.

“Right now, you just need to focus on your family.  Take care of your daughter. “

He told me he would make sure my staff had the support they needed and that I didn’t need to worry about things at work.  I “just needed to focus on my family.”  I was so relieved and grateful to have such a supportive and understanding boss.

Truthfully, the events of that dark period are still somewhat of a blur.  I know I took my daughter to the hospital emergency room, but I don’t remember how much work I missed because this story turns around….When I got back to my office I found a peach sitting on my desk and laying beside the peach was a small card which simply said, Have a peach of a day! Click To Tweet

The card was unsigned, but it was written on the back of Errol’s business card.  I remember feeling very cared for.   Errol became my mentor and my best friend.

After my first marriage ended, I realized that Errol was the partner I had been seeking all my life.  I shared my feelings with him (which was risky because he was still my boss!). Lucky for me however, Errol felt the same deep friendship and connection.  We explained our situation to the CEO, who agreed to become my boss, so Errol and I could date each other without others raising concerns* about our growing romance.

Several months later we were married.  We have been happily married for 15 years, and peaches have remained a symbol of our soft, sweet, beautiful love for each other.

Peachy expressions

Peaches are featured in several English idioms and expressions.  Here are several, along with examples of how to use them (If you know of others, please add it to the comment section below):

A peach  To say someone is “a peach” means they are sweet and kind.  Example: Errol was a peach to leave me something to encourage me when I was down.*

Peach fuzz  A young boy’s first whiskers are sometimes described as peach fuzz. Peach fuzz can also mean the fine light colored hair found on the body of children and women (vellus hair).  Example:  The guy’s friends teased him about shaving, saying all he had on his face was peach fuzz.

Peaches and Cream complexion  A peaches and cream complexion is smooth, and has a soft, even-toned, pinkish, blush. It is beautiful.  (See the photo below.  These boys have peaches and cream complexions). Peaches and Cream complexions, Boys with Santa

Peachy  This means, nice or good. Example: The title of this post is Just Peachy.  “Just Peachy” is an expression meaning “fine.”  When someone asks, How are you doing? You can answer, “I’m just peachy!” We could also say, “Everything is peachy!”

Peachy keen  This variation of “peachy” was popular in the 1950’s -1970’s to mean “real good, cool.” Example:  I am peachy keen today!  I’m on top of my game!*

The pits  When something is rough, tough, hard, difficult, and undesirable it can be described as “the pits.” The center of a peach, its seed, is called a pit or a stone. Example: No matter what you call the center of a peach, breaking a tooth on one would definitely be the pits!

My Take On It  Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG

Going from the pits to peachy

As I was retelling my love story, I was surprised at how sad my story was at the beginning. I’ve been in love and happy for so long, I almost forgot how miserable and stressful my life used to be. It truly was the pits (see the definition above).

In the Bible, the book of Isaiah, chapter 61, God promises to turn grief into joy and to provide comfort to those who mourn.  This promise was made to God’s people, the Jews. But because God’s people rejected Him (when they rejected Jesus), those promises were extended to the non-Jew as well.   Now, Jew and non-Jew alike can establish a relationship with God Himself.  His promises are true for all mankind.  Test Him and see that He is true and good, and let Him turn your life around,* just like He did for me.

Blessings,   Michele

Body Language: Expressions Speak Louder Than Words

Have you ever watched a newborn contort their faces into all sorts of unusual expressions? What do you imagine the baby (pictured above) is thinking?  This is the stuff that memes (pronounced “meemz”) are made of!  A meme pairs a humorous image with a funny caption.  See my meme example below (shut-eye is slang for sleep).

Grant meme body language

This post is about non-verbal communication.  Scientific studies have shown that body language has a major impact on communication. Tone of voice and body language (posture, gestures, and facial expressions) can even change the meaning of a message.

Look at the picture of the baby again.

Eyebrows which are lifted high enough to wrinkle or crease the forehead usually indicate surprise.  When one eyebrow is lifted higher than the other it indicates incredulity, like the little guy in the picture; it is the nonverbal equivalent of “are you serious?!”

During my teacher’s training, we used the textbook, Teaching by Principles by H. Douglas Brown. In the Classroom Management section he discusses the importance of voice and body language for people working in their second language.  This is because what people hear (or think they hear) may have more to do with what they see than what is actually being said.

Tips from professor Brown:

• Let your body posture exhibit an air of confidence.

In Western culture this means standing, or sitting straight: with head up, making direct eye contact,  with shoulders back and balanced equally over the hips.

• Your face should reflect optimism, brightness, and warmth.

• Use facial and hand gestures to enhance meanings of words and sentences that might otherwise be unclear.

image via Cheapflights
image by Cheapflights on designtaxi.com

CAUTION!  Not all gestures have the same meaning across cultures click here to see the Global Guide to Hand Gestures

• Do not plant your feet firmly in one place…

Use movement purposefully.  When speaking to a group, make eye contact with ALL the members of the group.

• Be aware of cultural expectations for proximity (how close you should stand to others) and touching (how, who, and when you should touch someone).

Westerners’ personal space extends from two to four feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters).  Only lovers, family, and close friends are allowed inside this bubble.  I like what Sinay Tarakanov wrote on his site, Study Body Language

 “…treat personal space as the property of other people – respect it – and you will gain their favor, invade it or stand too far – and you will automatically lose…”

Communicating effectively in another language requires careful observation and respect.  Like the saying goes, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”  This means when you are in an unfamiliar environment, use the behaviors of others (who are familiar with the environment) to guide you.

He says, She says*

Men and women speak differently and have different expectations of each other’s communication. Here is a short video where I explain how eye contact, and tone of voice can affect the meaning of your message

Did you know that men and women give “listening feedback” differently?  Women make more supportive sounds like: uh-huh, yeah, or mmm.  According to author Deborah Tannen, in her 1991 book You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, these differences can even interfere with successful interactions.

Additionally, women tend to touch others to communicate friendliness and support, whereas men touch to communicate power or authority. Read about this research on proximity and touch here. 


Understanding Body Language (for business and work)  http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/Body_Language.htm

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG Thank you!  Michele

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