How NOT to pay a compliment in English (back & left-handed compliments)

How NOT to pay a compliment in English (back & left-handed compliments)

In our last video we looked at six different ways to pay someone a compliment and you can see that video here: https://www.simpleenglishvideos.com/6-easy-ways-to-pay-compliments-in-english/
In this video we’re looking how NOT to give compliments. We’ll show you examples of things that can go wrong, and suggest ways to avoid them.
For example:

  • Complimenting a woman on her appearance in the workplace could be seen as a sexual advance or even sexual harassment.
    There are gender differences in how we give compliments and we’ll pass on some research.
  • If compliments aren’t sincere, they can be seen as flattery and that can be a problem.
  • And finally, you want to avoid backhanded or left-handed compliments. These are compliments that are half insult and half compliment and nobody likes them. We’ll show you a variety of back and left-handed compliment examples so you can see if you can the spot what’s wrong with them.

Click here to see our video on how to give a compliment.
Click here to learn how we might respond to compliments differently in the US and UK.
Click here to learn more everyday English expressions.

How NOT to pay a compliment in English

Hi.
Hi.
Have you had your hair cut?
Yes, I’ve got a new barber. What do you think?
Oh it’s very smart. It’s so much better than it looked before.
Oh great.
Let me see the back. See! I like what he’s done with your bald spot.

Hi I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
Our last video was about compliments and when I posted it, Jay was a bit worried.
Well you didn’t tell everyone what we DON’T say if we’re giving a compliment.
I didn’t want the video to be too long. I’ll put a link here if you haven’t seen it yet. And we’re going to talk about compliments that don’t work now.
OK.
So what was your problem?
Well there are compliments that guys can’t give. I might compliment you on your appearance because we’re married, but I’d be very careful about complimenting the appearance of another woman, especially at work.
But I could compliment a female colleague on her appearance – if she looked nice.

Hi everyone.
Hi Geri. Your hair’s looking very pretty today.
Thank you. I just had it cut.
It’s gorgeous. And you have such beautiful brown eyes.

That was creepy.
Yes, men have to be careful. If we compliment a woman on her appearance we could make her uncomfortable.
We could think you’re trying to make a move on us.
Exactly! And it’s sexual harassment if we do it in the workplace in the united States. We could lose our jobs.
So it’s serious.
Yes, don’t do it guys! Not in the US.
There’s a lot of linguistic research on compliments and they’ve found the kinds of compliments that men and women give are often different. Men are more likely to say things like ‘Good job’ or ‘Nice work’. Their compliments are more impersonal.
That sounds right to me.
And women give more compliments to other women than men give to other men.
That makes sense too.
Well women are very nice.
I think another important thing with compliments is that you can’t lie. You have to tell the truth.

Oh officer. Is there a problem?
Yes, you can’t park here.
I’m just going to move it.
You’re too late. You should not have parked here.
Oh officer. Oh my, what beautiful brown eyes you have.
Flattery will get you nowhere.
You know, I’ve got some doughnuts in the car. Perhaps I could give you the doughnuts and you could throw away that ticket?
That’s not flattery. That’s bribery.

Well that didn’t work. I tried flattery but you saw through me.
Yes, flattery is praise that we don’t really mean.
When we flatter someone, we try to persuade them to do something by saying nice things about them.
But flattery isn’t sincere. It’s just a show.
Yes. And what about bribery?
Oh well, that’s when we give someone something to do what we want and it breaks the rules.
Yes.
So it’s something dishonest
Or illegal.
OK, there’s another thing we have to do right to give a good compliment, and it’s very important.
What’s that?
We have to be totally positive. You can’t mix in any negative things.

Oh nice jacket. Is it new?
Yes, I bought it last week.
I love the way you go your own way instead of following the fashions.
Oh, well.
And it hides your belly well too.

That was not a compliment!
I know. I said something nice because I said you go your own way, so you’re independent.
But you also suggested I’m not fashionable.
Yeah. That’s not nice.
And then you drew attention to my belly!
Yeah. Definitely not nice!
So it was a compliment and an insult at the same time.
We have a term for this. In British English we call it a backhanded compliment. But you have a different name for it in American English.
Yes, we call it a left-handed compliment. It’s when it’s half compliment and half insult.
We had a request to talk about backhanded compliments from a viewer called Nick. Great idea Nick!
Then let’s look at another one.
Yeah. Watch another example and see if you can recognize the compliments and the insults.
Yes, try to spot what’s nice and what’s rude here?

Well, that was an interesting meeting.
Mmm. Where do you get the energy to talk so much?
Oh thanks. Do you think I talked too much?
Oh no, I love listening to your ideas Jay.
Oh good.
Listening to you makes me feel so intelligent.

So I said ‘Where do you get the energy to talk so much?’ That could be a compliment because it means I think you’re energetic.
Yes that’s positive, but you also said I talk so much. Maybe you meant too much.
And then there was another. I said I liked listening to your ideas. That’s positive. But then you said they make you feel intelligent. I was drawing a comparison between your ideas and my ideas
And suggesting yours are more intelligent than mine.
I was being a smart-arse there.
A smart-ass is someone who behaves as if they know everything.
Yes, we say smart-arse in British English.
Smart-ass in American English.
Your arse – or ass- is a slang word for your bottom. If you want to be more polite you could say smart aleck
A smart aleck thinks their very clever and they’re very annoying.
Let’s have another example.

Oh and here’s a picture of me and my brother.
Oh wow. Is that handsome guy you?
Yes.
You look great. I nearly didn’t recognize you.
Really?
Yeah, it doesn’t look like you at all.

So I said two nice things here. ‘You look great’ and I called you handsome.
Yes, but the problem was you also said the guy in the photo didn’t look like me, so that implies that I don’t normally look great or handsome.
Yes. So it’s really important. If you’re paying someone a compliment, you have to stay 100% positive. You can’t add negative stuff.
If someone pays you a left-handed compliment, what should you say?
I’ve no idea. How should you reply?
I don’t know either. But if anyone has any ideas about that, please write and tell us in the comments.
Perhaps you should say nothing.
And then go and find some new friends.
I find responding to normal compliments hard sometimes too.
A lot of people do.
Let’s make another video about that.
OK. Next year perhaps. If you liked this video please share it with a friend.
And don’t forget to subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss our future videos.
Bye everyone.
Bye-bye.

Click here to see our video on how to give a compliment.
Click here to learn how we might respond to compliments differently in the US and UK.
Click here to learn more everyday English expressions.

6 Easy Ways to Pay Compliments in English

6 Easy Ways to Pay Compliments in English

Learn 6 easy ways to pay compliment in English a make the world a happier place!

We’ll show you lots of compliment examples and talk about which compliments mean most to us. (They have to be genuine and can’t be manipulative!)

We’ll also show you six easy grammar structures for compliments:
look/be + adjective
love/like + noun
Good job/work
nice + noun
What + adjective + noun
good at + noun, good at + gerund

Click here to learn how we might respond to compliments differently in the US and UK.
Click here to learn some more everyday English expressions.

6 ways to pay compliments in English

Hello everyone. I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
And today we want to help you make the world a happier place.
We’re going to look at compliments and how we tell people what we like about them in English.
The grammar is pretty easy. You can learn the structures you need very fast.
And we’ll show you lots of examples.
So you can find some nice things to say to people you like.
Let’s start with some vocabulary. We can give a compliment or pay a compliment. It means the same thing. Pay and give collocate with the word compliment.
What does collocate mean?
It means we often use the words together. So we often say the verbs ‘pay’ and ‘give’ with the noun ‘compliment’. They’re common collocations.
OK. Let’s get cracking now and see some compliments in action.
Yes, we have a story for you. See how many compliments you can spot.

Oh let me help you.
Oh no, I can do it.
No, no, let me help. Oh this artwork looks great. It’s really beautiful. Did you do this?
Yes. I just need one copy.
Oh I can do that.
Ah. It’s jammed. You have to take the paper out at the back. Oh. It’s stuck. Where are you going? Help, help.
Help, oh, you’ve saved me! Thank you.
You’re welcome
Who are you?
I’m photocopier man.
Oh you’re so brave and so strong. Those are really big muscles!
Well, I don’t know about that.
Oh and you’re so handsome. I love your smile.
Well I’d better get going now. Bye.
Oh. Where did you go? You’ll never guess who was here.
Who?
Photocopier man.

You gave photocopier man lots of great compliments there.
Well, he was very cute!
Like me.
Let’s look at the grammar. What structures did we use?

Oh this artwork looks great. It’s really beautiful. Did you do this?
Yes.

Here’s a very common structure for giving compliments. We use the verb ‘look’ or the verb ‘be’ with an adjective. And we can add emphasis with ‘really’.
We often use the adjectives great, beautiful, pretty, nice and good. They are all very common.
But there are lots more like wonderful, cool, cute, clever. Compliments are about spreading love so be positive.
In the UK we often say brilliant and it means very clever. ‘That’s a brilliant idea.’ ‘You’re brilliant’.
In the US we often say awesome. ‘You’ve done a really awesome job’.
We say awesome in British English now too.
Yeah?
Mmm. We got it from the US.
OK, let’s look at another common structure now.

Oh and you’re so handsome. I love your smile.
Well, I’d better get going now. Bye.
Oh!

Again it’s simple. Just use the verb ‘like’ or ‘love’ and then say what you like or love. ‘I love your dog.’ ‘I like your hair.’ ‘I love your sense of humour.’
And again you can say ‘really’ to add emphasis. ‘I really love your smile’.
I really like your new glasses.
Thanks. You know there’s another structure that I use a lot. Well it’s a phrase really.
What’s that?
Good job! When someone does something well, I say ‘Good job’. Or ‘Great job’.
So for example, if they hit a golf ball into the hole.
Yes, good job. Or if you park the car in a small space.
Yeah.

We finished on time and on budget.
Well done everyone. Good job!
Yeah, nice work!

Nice is similar to good. We can say ‘Nice work!’ ‘Nice job!’
Or ‘Nice phone!’ ‘Nice computer! Nice – anything really.
And there’s another very simple structure like that. We say ‘what’!
What?
Yes!

Come in. Come in.
What a lovely apartment!
Thank you.
What a beautiful piano. It’s so pretty.
It’s a pretty colour, isn’t it?

So we just say ‘what’ and then the thing
‘What a lovely apartment!’
‘What a beautiful piano!’
‘What a great team we are!’
‘What a beautiful baby!’
So the grammar is very simple again.
Yes, I think forming compliments is pretty easy. Thinking of nice things to say is more difficult because you want to find things that matter to the other person and they have to be true.
What can we give compliments about?
There are lots of things, aren’t there? We can compliment people on how they look. Their clothes, their hair.
And their possessions. ‘What a great looking car.’ ‘What a nice yard.’
I’d say nice garden in British English. But what do you think are the nicest compliments to give to people?
What do I think?
Yeah.
Well, they’re probably not about appearance. How you look is how you look. And clothes and possessions – they’re just material things. Maybe the nicest compliments are about their achievements, about the things they do.
For example?
Well maybe they give a good presentation and you say ‘You did a really great job. or ‘You’re really good at giving speeches.’
Yeah or if they create something, like some artwork. Or their cooking. We often compliment people on a meal they’ve cooked.

This soup is delicious. Did you make it?
Yes, it’s a family recipe.
I love it!

Another nice compliment is when we can say something positive about someone’s character or personality, like, ‘You’re always so helpful’. Or ‘You’re very thoughtful’.
Or ‘You’re very imaginative’, or patient, or ‘You’re really well organized’.

You did a great job on this event Vicki.
Thank you!
You’re so well organized. It’s been a pleasure working with you.
You too!
But I organized this event!
Yes. I really love working with you too.

I like these compliments because they’re about skills. They’re saying ‘You’re good at your job’.
That’s another useful structure: ‘good at’. You’re really good at giving speeches.
Or you’re really good at English.
Notice what follows ‘good at’. It’s always a noun. If we want to use a verb, we have to add -ing to turn it into a gerund – a noun form of a verb.
So you’re really good at giving, -ing, – giving speeches.
Let’s have one more example.
OK.

You know you’re so good at making coffee Jay.
Thank you!
Could you make me another cup?

But that wasn’t really a compliment.
I know. I just wanted more coffee. But it illustrates the most important thing about giving compliments. They have to be true.
That’s right. If you lie, people might think you’re trying to manipulate them.
They might think you’re lying in order to get them to do what you want.
Compliments have to be truthful.
We’re making another video about how not to give compliments, because some compliments don’t work.
So make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
And see you all next week everyone. Bye.
Bye-bye.

Click here to learn how we might respond to compliments differently in the US and UK.
Click here to learn some more everyday English expressions.

7 things to say when you make a mistake

7 things to say when you make a mistake

What do we say when we make a mistake? Maybe it’s an expletive. (Did you you know the pronunciation of expletive is different in British and American English?) In this video we look at some swear word alternatives like bother, shoot and damn.

You’ll also learn the phrasal verb screw up and the more polite phrasal verb mess up.

We also look at the expressions ‘by mistake‘ meaning by accident and ‘It’s my fault‘, meaning I accept responsibility. And you’ll see examples of the word fault as a countable and uncountable noun.

Click here to learn some rules for when we use make and when we use do.
Click here to learn more everyday English expressions

Things to say when you make a mistake

Welcome to the Good Morning show. In today’s program we’re going to be talking to Hillary Clinton. Oh, I’m sorry. That’s the wrong picture. We’ve clearly made a mistake.
Argh!

Hi everyone, I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
And this lessons about things you can say when you make mistakes.
Where should we start?
Well the first thing we say is often an expletive.
She means expletive.
Expletive. The pronunciation’s different in British and American.
Say expletive.
An expletive is a word that shows you’re angry or upset.

Argh!

Argh! Oh….
The next thing you’d say is not polite.
Yeah, expletives are generally rude words. I’m sure you know these ones. They’re common curse words.
Be careful though because they are very rude.
Yes, don’t say them to your boss or peoplke you don’t know well.
What are some polite alternatives?
Hmm. I’ve heard some people say ‘oh bother’, but that’s normally if it’s a small thing.

Oh bother, I’ve spilt my tea.

‘Bother’ sounds very British. In the US we might say ‘shoot’.

Oh shoot, I left my wallet at home.

Again, we say this for small mistakes.
Yes, if you want to add some emotion, I think ‘damn’ is a useful word.
Is it rude?
It’s a little rude but it’s better than the curse words if you’re at work or something, and it shows you’re upset.

Oh damn. I forgot to put petrol in the car.
Damn. I just made a mistake.
What?
I just sent everyone the wrong dates for the meeting.

Notice that Jay said ‘I just made a mistake’. We use the verb ‘make’ with mistake.
In some languages it’s do a mistake’, but not in English.
Yes, so don’t make that mistake with mistake! ‘Make’ and ‘mistake’ both start with the letter m. Perhaps that will help you remember.
OK. Now are there other ways to say ‘I’ve made a mistake’?
Yes. We often use phrasal verbs. Let’s see one in action.

Oh no, I’ve screwed up again!
What have you done?
I forgot to press save before I closed the document.
He’s always screwing up like that.

The verb is ‘screw up’. It’s slang and it’s a bit rude.
Again, you probably don’t want to say it to your boss. But there’s another verb you could use instead – mess up.

Can I try it?
OK but be careful. It took me ages to get this far. Don’t mess it up. …
Oh sorry

Mess up means to do something badly.
It’s a phrasal verb again and it’s a little more polite than screw up.
And another phrase you can use is ‘by mistake’.

Urgh!
What?
I drank your coffee by mistake. How much sugar is in that?
5 teaspoons. I like it sweet.

So ‘by mistake’ means ‘by accident’.

Hi.
Hi. Your pay check has arrived.
Oh good. Hey! Somebody’s already opened this.
Yeah, sorry, I opened it by mistake. You didn’t earn as much as me last month.

So by mistake – by accident.
By mistake means you didn’t intend to do it. Or did you?
Now the word mistake is a noun here, but it can be a verb too. And then it means you think one thing is another.
For example, you have to keep your pills safe because children might mistake them for candy.
Mistake is an irregular verb – mistake, mistook, mistaken.

Oh Mary.
Do we know each other?
Oh sorry, I mistook you for someone else.
No problem.

I mistook you for someone else means I thought you were one person, but you were another.
Yes, it sounds a little formal to me. I think normally I’d say it differently.

Oh Mary.
Do we know each other?
Oh sorry I thought you were someone else.
No problem.

That sounded more natural.
Yes, and there’s another thing we often say when we’ve made a mistake.
What?
Sorry.
Let’s look at how we do that.

Who designed these calendars?
Oh I did. Do you like them?
How many copies did you print?
I don’t know.
I ordered 500. Is there a problem?
Yes. Look at February. There are 30 days.
Oh, that’s a mistake.
I’m so sorry Kathy. It’s my fault. I didn’t notice.
It’s my fault too. I didn’t check it before it went to the printers.
We’re both at fault.
30 days!

Now here’s a very useful phrase. When we say ‘it’s my fault’, we’re saying we’re responsible.
We accept the blame for what went wrong.
We admit we did the wrong thing. And if we don’t want to accept responsibility, we can use the negative.

You need to do this again.
Why?
It’s full of spelling mistakes
It’s not my fault. My spell checker doesn’t work
Then use a dictionary.
Humph.

So ‘it’s not my fault’ means it’s not my responsibility. Don’t blame me.
Fault is an uncountable noun here, so it has no plural form. But the word fault has other meanings where it’s countable.
For example?
Well, people can have faults.

Good luck with your presentation. Are you nervous?
No, I’m going to be fantastic. They’ll love me.
Jay may have some faults, but lack of confidence isn’t one of them.

So here faults is plural and it means the bad or weak parts of someone’s character.
I don’t really have many faults.
Yeah right. And faults can also mean other things that are wrong. Machines can have faults. Faults are things that stop them working correctly.
A fault in the design.
A structural fault.

You need to use the other copier. This one’s not working.
Really? Why not?
They think it’s an electrical fault.
Hmmm.
Told you.

OK, I think it’s time to review, don’t you?
Yes, let’s see what you can remember. When we make a mistake, the first thing we say is often an expletive.
Or an expletive.
An expletive is usually a swear word or curse word. But there are some more polite alternatives. For example in the UK we could say ‘Oh bother!’
And in the US we could say ‘Oh shoot!’
Here’s a really useful one: Oh damn!
We usually use the word mistake with the verb make.
And we use phrasal verbs too like ‘I’ve screwed up’.
And we can also say ‘I’ve messed up’.
If we think we’re responsible for a mistake we’ll say ‘It’s my fault’.
And if we think we’re not responsible we’ll say ‘It’s not my fault’.
And that’s it. Now you know what to say when you’ve screwed up and made a mistake.
If you’ve found this video useful, please share it with a friend.
And make sure you subscribe to our channel.
See you next Friday everyone. Bye Bye.
Bye.

Click here to learn some rules for when we use make and when we use do.
Click here to learn more everyday English expressions

Are Brits or Americans more polite? Let’s see!

Are Brits or Americans more polite? Let’s see!

The US and UK have a rather different style of politeness. You’ll learn about them both in this video.

In American English it’s often important to show warmth and friendliness. That’s true in British English too, but there we sometimes place more emphasis on not intruding or interfering.

It’s not that one style of politeness is better than the other, but it can lead to some funny differences on when we give compliments and how we receive them.

There’s a branch of linguistics called pragmatics which studies the hidden or secret meanings behind the words we choose. It looks at the intentions behind words and, as a result, it has prompted a lot of research and discussion about linguistic politeness.

This video looks at some ways that face issues impact politeness when it comes to compliments.

We haven’t tried to go into the technicalities of positive and negative politeness, but we show some issues in action that we think will be useful for English learners.

If you’ve enjoyed this video, here are two more we’ve made on some pragmatic features of English:
Why it’s hard to understand English speakers: https://youtu.be/HeDyRUkQA5Q
3 ways to get what you want in English: https://youtu.be/4jJ5zvfxRgc

British and American compliments – different styles of politeness

Yes, I’ll see you at three thirty then. OK. Cheers!
I just love your accent.

This video was inspired by a great comment we had from a viewer called Toure Malone. Have I said his name right?
I don’t know.
Toure, tell us if we got that wrong.
Here’s what he said.
Americans are notorious for saying “Oh my god I love your accent”. I’m one of them! Does it irritate you? He also said ‘We can’t help it. British accents are divine’
We’d better explain what notorious means.
It’s similar to famous, but it’s when you’re famous for something bad.
Yeah. A notorious criminal.
A notorious computer hacker.
And he says British accents are divine – so wonderful, beautiful.
He’s right.
You think my accent’s divine too?
No, I mean it’s true that Americans often say this to you. Are you irritated by it?
Not now because I’m used to it. I like it now, but at first I felt uncomfortable. It was awkward.
Why?
I didn’t know how to respond.
OK. See you soon. Bye.

I just love your accent.
Well everyone speaks like this where I come from.

That’s terrible! It’s like you’re calling him an idiot.
I know. I should be nicer.

OK. See you soon. Cheers.
I just love your accent.
And I just love your… dental work.

That’s terrible too! What’s your problem?
It’s less common to give compliments to strangers in the UK. We have a different way of being polite.
What do you mean?
Well, there are two sides to politeness – two parts. One part is about being inclusive and warm and friendly and agreeable.
Like me.
Yeah.
I’m American and we’re famous for being friendly.
But the other part of politeness is about being leaving people alone.
That’s polite?
Yes, so you don’t interfere. You let them do whatever they want and you don’t disturb them. You don’t intrude.
You don’t want to be intrusive.
Uhuh. Not intruding is polite too.
Well that makes sense.
Both these sides of politeness are important in all cultures, but people give them different weight, different importance, in different parts of the world.
Let me guess. In America being warm and friendly is more important.
Yes. It’s important everywhere, but it’s very important in the US. And in the UK, we think it’s important to stand back and leave people alone a bit more.
We can do that too. But this is about different weightings.
Exactly. If you think about the stereotypes of British people and Americans, it’s sort of connected.

Hi, I’m British and I’m rather reserved. If we meet somewhere like a railway carriage, I probably won’t talk to you. I think it’s polite to leave people alone so they can go about their business without me getting in their way.

Hi! I’m American and I’m super friendly. When we meet for the first time, I’m going to tell you my entire life story in the first five minutes. I’m polite so I won’t hold back. I’m going to share and be open.

Those are stereotypes. They’re not real.
But when you think about the two sides of politeness, you can see where they come from. You know, sometimes my students ask if American friendliness is fake.
So not real?
Yeah, is it fake?
No!
After living here a long time, I don’t think it’s fake either. It’s just the politeness style – it emphasizes friendliness.
Ok, so let’s go back to Toure’s example. When we say ‘I love your accent’, We’re being friendly. What’s wrong with that?
Well it’s also intrusive because it means you’re judging me.
But I said something nice.
Yeah, but what right have you got to judge me?
That’s such a funny way of looking at it.
And there’s another problem. If you say something nice to me, then I might feel that I have to repay you and say something nice back.
Oh, so it sounds like I’m fishing for compliments.
It’s a possibility.
Why can’t you just say thank you?
Ah. If I accept the compliment and then you might think that I’m big headed.
Big headed is a British expression.
It means you think you’re more intelligent or more important than you really are.
You don’t want people to think you’re conceited.
Exactly. You want them to think you’re modest. That’s when you don’t talk about your achievements. Being big headed is bad. Being modest is good.

And that’s it. Thank you everybody.
Wow. I just loved your presentation. It was awesome.
Thank you. Erm… I made some mistakes.
It was really good.
I forgot some things.
I didn’t notice. You were terrific.
Thanks Erm. I really should have practiced more.
But…. but it was interesting.
No, no.
No, really!

Wow, that was awkward. It felt like YOU were fishing for compliments.
I know. I was just trying to be modest and you wouldn’t let me.
Well, you kept criticizing yourself so you forced me to say something nice.
When I first came to the US, I had conversations like that. It was really embarrassing. The Americans were embarrassed. I was embarrassed.
But it’s not a problem now.
Errr. Not so much. I’ve learnt to be careful not to criticize myself.
She’s very modest.
No. It’s not that we’re really more modest in the UK. It’s just more important for us to behave as if we’re modest.
It’s a different style of politeness.
Exactly. And I’m wondering, what politeness is like in YOUR culture. Is it more like the US or the UK?
Write and tell us in the comments. That’ll be very interesting.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
See you all next week everyone.
Bye.
Bye-bye.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Say in English (if you want to be polite)

5 Things You Shouldn’t Say in English (if you want to be polite)

Translation is dangerous! Sometimes words and phrases that work in one culture are rude in English.
This video is about cultural differences and how to be polite in English. We look at 5 things you shouldn’t say in English unless you want to be rude or get a black eye.

  • Grandma and grandad/granddad
    Aunt and aunty
    How old are you?
    How much do you earn?
    You’re looking fat.

We talk about cultural differences that can cause problems if you translate and also the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt if you want to be polite.

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Things you shouldn’t say in English

Are you saying things you shouldn’t in English? We need to talk.
Hi, I’m Vicki
And I’m Jay.
And this video’s about things you SHOULDN’T say in English.
So it’s about what NOT to say.
That’s right. There are some things that might work in one language and one culture, but when you translate them into English they become rude.
Give us an example.
Grandma.
Grandma?
Yeah, and Grandad. Like that comment we had on one of our YouTube videos.
Right. I know the one you mean. It was funny.
Yeah. Let me explain. We love getting comments on our videos. Usually people say really nice things and thank you all for that.
It’s very motivating for us. But we had a funny comment a while ago. Someone wrote and they said ‘I just love your video, Grandma.’
Technically speaking they were correct. I am a grandma. And I love being a grandma. But grandma also has another meaning in English. We use it informally as an insult to talk about people we don’t know.
So it’s a rude thing to say.
Exactly. An insult is when you say something that’s rude in order to offend someone or to upset them.
Grandma can imply that someone is very old and feeble
Feeble means weak and ineffective. We might call someone grandma when we think they’re mentally or physically slow.
Grandad or grandpa is similar. It’s also used as an insult.
So if an old person is taking too long to do something we might say ‘Oh hurry up grandma.’ Or ‘Get out the way Grandma.’
So what did you think when you read that comment?
I wasn’t sure what to think. Obviously we are a little old for YouTubers, but still… Then I thought maybe it’s just an English mistake.
So not an insult?
Yeah.
So what did you say to them?
I just wrote ‘thank you’.
You didn’t ask them what they meant?
No. Perhaps I should have asked. I wanted to know what they meant, but then I thought, don’t feed the trolls.
‘Don’t feed the trolls’. This is a useful expression. There are trolls on the internet.
Trolls are people who make rude or nasty comments because they want to get an emotional reaction.
Don’t feed the trolls means don’t respond to them.
Yes. But in this case I didn’t know if the comment came from an internet troll or not. I probably should have asked.
But then another viewer did ask.
Yes, they came to my defence. That was nice. They said, hey, why are you calling her grandma? Be more polite. And then first viewer wrote back and explained. In their culture, for them, Grandma was a term of respect and admiration.
So they were trying to be respectful?
Yes, maybe grandma means experienced and wise. But in some cultures you can use grandma and grandpa to show respect to people you don’t know.
So there was a happy ending to this story.
A very happy ending. It’s good to give people the benefit of the doubt.
That’s another useful phrase – the benefit of the doubt.
Yeah. If you think someone might be doing something bad, but you’re not sure, you can decide, hey, I don’t know so I am going to presume you’re not being bad and you’re being nice.
You give them the benefit of the doubt.
Yes, and if you want to be safe, don’t call people grandad or grandma in English.
Unless they’re YOUR grandma or grandpa. Then it’s OK.
Yes, or unless you want a black eye.

Get out of the way, grandma.

A black eye is a dark area of skin around your eye that you get if someone hits you.
Now there’s another term like grandma, that’s dangerous in English.
What’s that?
Aunt or Aunty. Be careful how you use these words.
I pronounce them Aunt or Aunty. In English an aunt is a family member – it’s the sister of your mother or father.
Yes, but there are cultures where it has another use and people call lots of older women aunt. It’s a term of respect again and also affection.
Usually we only call blood relatives aunt in English.
Yes, there might be a very close family friend that children call aunty, though it’s not usual in British English.
It’s unusual in American English too.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes people I hardly know contact me on the internet and they write Dear Aunt or Dear aunty.
That sounds very weird in English. Why do they do that?
I think they’re translating and trying to signal affection, but it doesn’t work
It sounds too familiar.
Yeah. It suggests we have a personal connection that we don’t have so it’s uncomfortable.
OK, so aunty is another thing you shouldn’t say in English.
Yes. Don’t use it. And I have some more.
Oh tell us.
Well, sometimes people ask us questions that don’t work in English because they’re too intrusive and too direct.
Can you give us some examples.
OK. ‘How old are you?’ is one, and another one is ‘How much do you earn?’
Wow, they’re very intrusive questions….. much too direct. People really ask these questions?
Yes. In some cultures you might ask them to get to know someone, so they’re more friendly then because they show you’re interested in them.
And they’re not rude?
Well no because you expect vague answers. Vague means not clear, not detailed.
But they just don’t work in English. They’re really rude.
Yes, they’re way too personal. Don’t ask them. Don’t go there.
‘Don’t go there’ means don’t bring up that subject of conversation. You’ll get a very bad reaction if you do.
Or a black eye!
Any more questions?
No, but I’ve got one more thing you shouldn’t say in English.
What’s that?
This happened to a friend of mine. He was travelling in China and he met someone he hadn’t seen for a while and they greeted him with ‘You’re looking fat’.
What?!
He was horrified, really shocked.
Well of course. We all want to look slim, like me. Why did they say that?
It was a direct translation that didn’t work. I think they meant to say you’re looking healthy and prosperous.
So they meant to say ‘You look well’ or ‘You look healthy’.
Exactly. We’d say something like ‘You look great. Jay, you’re looking good.
Thanks, of course I do. So the important lesson here is to be careful how you translate.
Yes. And also remember that when we’re communicating with people from other cultures, these translation mistakes happen so we have to give people the benefit of the doubt.
That sounds like great advice. What do you think?
Perhaps you know more things that don’t translate well into English from your language. Write and tell us in the comments if you do.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel and see you next week everyone. Bye.
Bye-bye.

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How to agree in English – 12 different ways

How to agree in English – 12 different ways

In this lesson we look at how to agree in English and we’ll spice up your vocabulary with 12 different words and phrases. We’ll show you common words and phrases in action and explain what they mean.

If someone gives an opinion or makes a suggestion that we like, we can say ‘I agree with you’. This phrase is clear, but be careful. If you use it too often, you might sound a little formal and unnatural. In everyday conversation, we signal agreement in lots of other ways that are easy to learn.

We’ll also look at some very common mistakes like ‘I am agree’ so you know what NOT to say as well. So start watching now to to learn how to agree in English.

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How to agree in English

How many ways can you think of to say ‘I agree’? In this lesson we’re going to spice up your English with different phrases and we’ll fix some common mistakes.
If someone gives an opinion or makes a suggestion that we like, we can say ‘I agree’. Let’s see the phrase in action.

You know, I think we should buy a big new camera.
Oh what a good idea!
We want one with high resolution.
I agree.
Very high resolution.
Yes, you’re right.
And we want one that films in slow motion.
Oh yes, I agree with you. You always have such wonderful ideas. Wake up. Wake up. Did you fall asleep again, Jay?
Err no, no.
Because we need to talk about the equipment.
Oh right. I think we should buy a big new camera.
What? That’s a terrible idea.

So in Jay’s dream, you heard me agreeing several times. Now, I have a question. Is this phrase correct too? NO!!! And what about this one? NO!!! Agree is a verb in English, not an adjective. To make questions and negatives use ‘do’. So ‘Do you agree?’ or ‘I don’t agree.’
In many languages the word for ‘agree’ can be a verb AND an adjective. Think about it. If you translate, can you say ‘I am agree’ in your language? In English you can’t because agree is always a verb, so we don’t use it with the verb ‘be’.
However, the word agree does have an adjective form in English. See if you can spot it.

So are we all agreed?
Uhuh.

Did you catch it?

So are we all agreed?
Uhuh.

So in this question agreed, with a d, is an adjective and we use the verb ‘be’. But this is an unusual thing to say. You’ll only hear it in very formal situations, maybe a business meeting but only if it’s very formal. I don’t think you need it, so let’s forget it.
Just remember, ‘agree’ is a verb. Make questions and negatives with do.
Now, while we’re talking about mistakes, there are some other things I’ve heard students say that don’t work in English.
They’re all translations from other languages. Don’t say them because they’re all wrong in English! Let’s throw them out too and talk about things you CAN say. ‘I agree’. This phrase is very clear, but be careful not to use it too much. Students often overuse it so they sound a little formal and unnatural. In normal conversation, English speakers will signal agreement in lots of other ways, often more informal ways, so let’s look at some in a conversation. While you watch, see how many agreement phrases you can spot.

OK. The 10 best old movies. Let’s write a list.
Yes.
Yeah!
How about ‘The Godfather’?
Definitely. It’s the best.
Absolutely. Write it down. And ‘Star Wars’.
Oh totally!
You bet.
May the force be with you.
Hey, ‘ET’. That was a fantastic movie.
You’re right.
You can say that again. Now what about an Alfred Hitchcock movie?
He made such scary movies.
Exactly!
You’re dead right there. Write down ‘Psycho’.
Uhuh.
And ‘The Terminator’.
‘The Terminator’?
Arnold Schwartznigger. I’ll be back…

In that conversation we signaled agreement in eleven different ways. Yes, eleven! How many did you spot?
Let’s go through them. The most common way to show you agree in English is to say yes, or something like it.

Yes.
Yeah.
Uhuh.

So that’s easy. And of course you can say people are correct or right.

You’re right.
You’re dead right there.

Notice the word dead here. In many situations dead means ‘not alive’. For example, a dead flower. But in other situations dead can mean completely or exactly. So dead silence, is complete silence. If something is dead centre it means it’s exactly in the middle. And if you say ‘you’re dead right’ it means you’re exactly or completely right.
There are other ways to say this:

Exactly!
Definitely!
Totally!
Absolutely!

You can use all these words to add emphasis and indicate you think statements are completely correct and accurate.
Now, what about this idiom?

You can say that again.

It means you’re so completely right, you can repeat it. I don’t know why repeating it helps, but it’s just something we say. And just one more expression.

You bet.

‘Bet’ is an interesting word. It can mean to gamble, so to risk money on a race or something. We might bet money on a horse we think is going to win, or bet money at a casino. But in this expression it just means ‘You’re right’. It’s informal and we say it when we want to emphasize that someone has made a good suggestion.
So these expressions are all very positive ways to signal we agree. They short and easy to learn and they’re going to make your English more natural and colloquial.
Now what about if we don’t agree? Well, that’s more complicated because people don’t like to disagree in English, or in any language. Disagreements can damage relationships, so we have to overcome that problem. We’re working on another video about that so make sure you subscribe to this channel so you don’t miss it.
If you’ve enjoyed this video please share it with a friend and why not write and tell us what your favourite old movie is.
It’s the terminator, right?
Goodbye everyone.
We’ll be back, next week.
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How to wish someone something nice in English – wish or hope?

How to wish someone something nice in English – wish or hope?

Learn how to use the verbs wish and hope to give good wishes and say nice things to someone in English.
We use the verbs wish and hope differently. Wish is more formal so when someone is wishing someone something it’s more likely to be written English. When we’re talking about future possibilities we generally use ‘hope’. It’s the verb we commonly use to give good wishes.
In this video you’ll see lots of examples and learn some other common ways to wish people nice things, like ‘Have a nice day‘ and ‘Have a great weekend‘.


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How to give good wishes: wish or hope?

There’s a mistake English students often make when they want to give good wishes to someone. They muddle up wish and hope. Today we’re going to fix that and we’ll also show you some other ways to say nice things to people in English.

I’m off
Oh, where are you going?
To the dentist’s. Wish me luck.

‘Wish me luck’. Notice that structure. To wish somebody something.
We might write this message for a bride and groom when they get married. Or maybe a colleague is retiring from work. We might write this in their card. They’re nice things to write.
But they’re for written English and they’re quite formal. Someone might say them in an official speech at an important occasion. But if we want to wish someone something, we usually say ‘hope’ instead. So, ‘We hope you have a great life and lots of fun together’, or ‘I hope you have a wonderful retirement’.

I’m off
Oh, where are you going?
To the dentist’s. Wish me luck.
Have you got a problem then?
Yes, I’ve got a toothache.
I hope it’s nothing serious.
Thanks.

Jay said ‘Wish me luck’ and I said ‘I hope it’s nothing serious.’ I didn’t say ‘wish’. That would sound funny.
So if we’re making a wish, we don’t say wish. We say hope. Wow, sometimes English is weird. What’s going on?
Wishes are magical things. The idea is that if we think of or imagine something enough, it will come true. But we all know magic isn’t real. When we want to talk about things that are real possibilities, we use hope instead of wish.
This means that we say wish when we’re talking about the action of wishing. But if we’re actually doing the action and giving good wishes to someone, it’s different. We don’t normally say wish when we’re talking about real possibilities.
It’s tricky so let’s look at some more situations. Imagine you’re saying goodbye to someone at an airport. What will you say to them?
These sentences are both grammatically correct, but I wish you a nice flight is very formal. We don’t normally say it. We say ‘I hope you have a nice flight’, or just ‘Have a nice flight.’ We often use the verb ‘have’ when we’re wishing people things.

  • Have a nice day.
    Have a great vacation.
    Have a nice trip.
    Have a great weekend.

OK, another situation. Your friend is sick. You call them and what do you say?
You say ‘I hope’, of course. When we’re doing the action of wishing we use hope not wish. And often we just say ‘Get well soon.’
OK. Another situation. Someone calls to wish your friend a happy birthday. But your friend is out so you take a message. What do you say to your friend when they return?
Which one? Let’s see it in action.

Thanks for calling. Yeah, I’ll tell him. OK. Bye now. Oh.
Who was that?
Kathy.
Uh oh. What did she want this time?
She called to wish you a happy birthday.
Oh that was nice of her.
And she wants you to work late tonight.
Oh.

So which sentence did I say? I said wish. I was talking about a wish, not doing the action and making the wish.
If I wanted to make the wish, I’d do it like this.

Hey Jay, happy birthday.
Oh thank you.
I hope you like them.
Oh I’m sure I will. It’s hair curlers?
Yes. Can I borrow them some time?
Errr. Sure.
Thank you!

So to make the wish, I just said ‘happy birthday.’ And did you notice what I said about the hair curlers?
We can say ‘I hope you like them’ or ‘I hope that you like them’. Both are correct. We often we skip ‘that’ when we’re speaking.
Great. So now you know how we use ‘hope’ to give good wishes, and you also know about this structure and when to use it.
But this structure is just the start. There are other structures we use with ‘hope’ and ‘wish’ so we’re making more videos about them.
Make sure you’ve subscribed to our channel and click the notification bell so you don’t miss them. And maybe your friends would like to learn about hope and wish too. Why not share this video with them? See you next Friday.
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Thank God or Thanks God?

Thank God or Thanks God?

Do we say Thank God or Thanks God? In this short video we show you how we use these phrases and fix a common (and funny) English mistake.
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Thank God or Thanks God?

We’re going to fix a very common and funny mistake today and it won’t take long. Do we say ‘Thank God’ or ‘Thanks God’?
Let’s jump straight in and see these phrases in action.

God, I’m late and I can’t find my cell phone! Oh God!
Did you call me?
Who are you?
I’m God.
Really? But I thought God was, you know, a guy.
No, I’m definitely female. What did you want?
I’ve lost my cell phone.
Well, when did you last have it?
I can’t remember.
Hmmm. I’ll call it
Ha! Thanks God.
You’re welcome. Bye.
Thank God she could help.

If we’re thanking people directly, so talking to them in person, we say ‘Thanks’ or ‘Thank you’.

Here’s your coffee.
Oh thanks, Jay.

But if we want to say we’re pleased about something we say ‘Thank God’, with no s on thank. If you say ‘Thanks God’, it sounds funny because it sounds like you’re talking to God directly.

Thanks God!
You’re welcome.

So if you’re very pleased about something, make sure you say thank without the s.

Thank God I’ve found my phone.

And that’s it. Make sure you subscribe and see you next Friday everyone. Bye.

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Conversation and slang with Philadelphia Eagles fans

Conversation and slang with Philadelphia Eagles fans

Come join the Eagles fans on the streets of Philadelphia as they celebrate a Super Bowl win. You’ll get listening practice with natural spoken English and learn some informal colloquial expressions and slang. Go Birds!

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Philadelphia Eagles fans having a blast

Today you’re going to meet lots of very happy people, and get some great listening practice with natural spoken English. You’re going to learn some colloquial expressions and slang. So come with me and let’s hit the streets of Philadelphia.

You’re here today celebrating at the parade. Have you been to the parade?
Yes we did. It was lit.
Last Sunday the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, and today milions of people have come to the city to celebrate at the parade.
Where have you come from?
Err, South Philly.
OK. Wow, the celebrations must have been big there.
It is. We followed the whole parade all the way up.
Where have you come from today?
I came from Delaware County.
Delaware County. So quite a journey. Was it difficult getting in?
It wasn’t too bad. We took the train. It took about an hour and then we had to take a subway ride.
Was it worth it?
Absolutely! This was worth it ten times over. It’s the best day of my life. I’m getting married next year. That’ll be the best day, but right now, this is the best day of my life. Great day, great day, great day. Go Birds!
Are you an Eagles fan?
Oh yeah!
What did you think of the game on Sunday?
Well I was actually there. My Dad took me.
Yeah.
And well, I was like frozen for like an hour when I found out that the Eagles won. So like, I… I was speechless.
Oh, it was phenomenal. It was a great game. I mean Philly did amazing. But I mean in general both teams played wonderfully, but obviously Philly came out.
It was a wish come true for every Eagles fan.
What do you think of the celebrations today?
Oh it was wild. It was really cold out here, but you know what, being around all of the other Eagles fans made it good. It was a blast. We had an absolute blast today.
It’s been great. Nothing really bad happening. Everyone’s loving it. People are.. I mean people are drinking, but people are having a good time. It’s like everyone’s supporting people. High fiving everyone. It’s really a good time.
It is, isn’t it? It’s a very happy crowd.
Great celebrations, yeah. I mean… There’s no one better in the entire nation than Philly fans. Philly fans are so dedicated but everyone’s being safe so it’s a good day today.

We heard lots slang and informal expressions there, so let’s take a look at some. Did you know this phrase?

Have you been to the parade?
Yes we did. It was lit.

This is a slang expression and ‘lit’ means exciting. So if a party is lit, it’s exciting. Next one.

Where have you come from?
Err, South Philly.

Philly – this is what the locals call Philadelphia. It’s an abbreviation. So South Philly is the south part of Philadelphia. Easy huh? Next one.

This is the best day of my life. Great day, great day, great day. Go Birds!

The name of the Philadelphia football team is the Eagles, and an eagle is a bird. So another word people use for the team is the birds. But notice the word ‘go’ here. This is like an instruction, telling the birds to advance and attack. In informal spoken English, people say ‘go’ to encourage one another – especially in American English. Great. Next one? This guy was interesting.

And well, I was like frozen for like an hour when I found out that the Eagles won. So like, I… I was speechless.

Speechless means not able to speak, and in this case it was because he was so happy and surprised. But notice how he uses the word ‘like’ here.
Like has lots of meanings in English and in colloquial English, you’ll hear it used as a filler word, especially among young people. We all use noises like err and um when we need to think. They fill gaps and spaces and make our speech flow more smoothly. ‘Like’ is another one and with young people it can sometimes signal an exaggeration. OK. Next one. Is this phrase grammatical?

Oh it was phenomenal. It was a great game. I mean Philly did amazing.

It’s NOT grammatical. You’d have to say Philly did amazingly to make it correct. BUT if you listen to the next bit, you can see this guy knows how to use adverbs correctly.

But I mean in general both teams played wonderfully but obviously Philly came out.

He used the adverb there. So what’s happening here? Well, ‘They did amazing’ is just a phrase we say in informal spoken English. Sports commentators say things like ‘He kicked the ball in magic’ instead of ‘He kicked it in magically’. Using an adjective instead of an adverb is common in some spoken English expressions and I think they’re examples of how the language is changing. OK, last one.

It was really cold out here. But you know what, being around all the other Eagles fans made it good. It was a blast. We had an absolute blast today.

A blast can mean a sudden gust of wind, or a sudden loud noise, but here it means something different. Again it’s an informal expression and it means an enjoyable and exciting experience. Like, everyone had a blast at the parade today and we had a blast making today’s video. We hope you enjoyed it too. If you did, please make sure you subscribe to our channel and see you next Friday.

Fly Eagles, fly!
On the road to victory.
Fight Eagles, fight.
Score a touch down 1,2,3.
Hit ’em low. Hit ’em high.
And watch our Eagles fly.
Fly Eagles, fly.
On the road to victory.
E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!

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How to use Can, Could and May to ask for permission

How to use Can, Could and May to ask for permission

Can, could and may are all modal verbs and we use them all to ask if it’s OK to do something. So how are they different and how do we respond when we want to agree to a permission request, and also to refuse? In this video you’ll find out.

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Can Could May Permission Video

How are these questions different? And how do we answer them? In this lesson we’ll find out.
We use all these phrases to ask if it’s OK to do something. Let’s look at three examples.

Can I park here, officer?
No, it’s not allowed.

Could I borrow your toothbrush?
What’s wrong with yours?
I lost it.

Oh, Vicki. I’ve got a yoga class this evening and I don’t want to be late. May I leave work early?
Yeah, OK. Maybe I’ll come with you.
That would be great.

‘Can I…’, ‘Could I…’ and ‘May I…’ They all mean the same thing here. Look, we can change them round and the meanings stay the same.
We use all these phrases to ask for permission to do something.

You can’t park here. You don’t have permission.

So is there a difference? Well yes, it’s about the situation we’re in and how careful we want to be about being correct and polite.
‘May’ is the most formal. ‘Can’ is the most informal. And ‘could’ is a little more formal than ‘can’.
When I was a child, my mum told me I should use ‘May I’ to ask for permission. It was a common rule back then and the old grammar books said ‘May I’ was more polite.
But the way we speak has changed over time and these days ‘Can I’ is much more frequent. In fact English speakers are now ten times more likely to say ‘Can I’ than ‘May I’. Yeah, ten times!
So do you need to learn ‘May I’ or can you forget it? You ned it because there are particular situations where we still use it. Maybe if someone’s giving a talk or speech to a group of people.

May I begin by thanking you all for being with us today?

Or perhaps they’re providing a service to a customer.

This is Rachel speaking. Sorry to keep you waiting. How may I help you?

Or perhaps they’re in a business meeting, and they want to make a suggestion.

I don’t think so.
Why not?
It’s not a good idea.
Yes it is.
May I suggest we come back to this later if we have time?

So ‘may I’, ‘could I’, ‘can I’ – they’re all useful when you need to ask for permission. But most of the time you’re going to say ‘Can I’ or ‘Could I’.
Now next thing. How should you respond if someone asks these questions?
Let’s look at some more examples, but this time pay attention to the answers. You’re going to hear six different replies. Are you ready?

Vicki, can I have a word?
Sure.

May I come in?
Mr Hale! Why, certainly.
Congratulations.
Thank you very much.

My battery’s flat. Can I use your phone?
Yes, of course.
Thank you.
You’re welcome.

Could I borrow these?
Yeah, OK.
May I serve tea now Miss Angorda?
Yes, please do, Warner.

Oh pizza. Can I have some?
Sure.
May I have some too?
Yes, help yourself.

Here are the replies you heard. They all mean ‘yes’ and they’re all polite. But which two are most formal? What do you think?
It’s these two: ‘Why certainly’ and ‘Please do’ are a little more formal. Also, notice ’Help yourself’. It’s a little different. We say this when we want someone to serve themselves or to take something.

Oh pizza. Can I have some?
Sure.
May I have some too?
Yes, help yourself.

OK, now that’s how we say yes, but what if we want to say no? Well, sometimes we apologise.

Can I borrow these?
Oh no. I’m afraid I need them.
That’s OK.

I’m afraid. It means ‘I’m sorry’ here so it’s a gentle, polite no. Of course we can also give a firm or definite no.

Oh Kathy!
How are you?
Fine.
Do you have a moment?
Can we speak with you about the Boston project?
What about it?
It’s the deadline. We’re a little behind.
Could we have another week?
No way. You need to finish by Friday?
Well, then can we hire an assistant?
Not on your life.
You don’t like the idea then?
In a word, no.

These phrases are all definite no’s and the last one means you won’t even discuss it.
Great! So that’s it. Now you know how we use ‘can’, ‘could’ and ‘may’ to ask for permission in English. And you also know some different ways to reply.
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Click here to see more everyday English conversation videos.
Click here to learn how we pronounce can’t differently in British and American English.
Click here to learn about the modal verbs can and could and the verb be able to.