I’ve blogged extensively about the importance of being able to conduct English small-talk and get involved in simple, everyday chats with other English speakers as opposed to trying to sound smart using sophisticated expressions because there’s always a chance you’ll get tongue-tied.
Also I’ve stressed how important it is not to lose your head when you can’t remember a certain word or a phrase in English but paraphrase instead.
Let’s say for instance, you’re having a chat with your friend and you’re trying to explain that you weren’t aware of a particular fact, but then it slowly became obvious to you. The phrase you’re trying to remember is “it dawned on me” – which means that you started to realize the truth. But if you can’t remember the exact word ‘dawned’, there are still dozens of ways to convey the same message – “I suddenly realized”, “and then I got it”, “I started to understand” etc.
While it’s important not to get too hung up on using the exact same phrase you can’t remember – or else you risk constantly getting stuck in the middle of conversations! – it’s also important not to ignore specific English phrases or so called idiomatic expressions that might just help you make your point more effectively and also would help you sound more like a native English speaker.
Just imagine that you’re watching news and they’re showing the latest developments in the world which unfortunately way too often involve natural and man-made disasters, atrocious crimes and other bad news that normally make the headlines.
You’re watching the news with a couple of your friends, and halfway through the news your own worries and problems that were so pressing a mere ten minutes ago, all of a sudden seem to have become ridiculously unimportant. Compared to what people are going through in North Africa and Middle East at the moment, your life is actually a walk in the park!
Now, you can express your feelings to your other family members in a couple of sentences just like I did in the paragraph above, OR… you can use a single phrase – “Yes, it really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?”
That’s the beauty of such and similar English phrases – they allow you to express your feelings in a single phrase! Moreover – they can be used in many different situations so a handful of smart English phrases can indeed help you explain yourself like a native English speaker!
But now I’m going to give you some more examples of smart English phrases so that you can clearly see the importance of learning them.
To put things in perspective
…means to see the bigger picture. You can use this English phrase whenever you find yourself in a situation when your perception of something changes because of new information that allows you to see things objectively. After watching news you realized that you can actually consider yourself lucky to be in a situation where you are in relation to where many others find themselves in; it’s like as if you’d look at the situation from outside and distance yourself from your own problems and worries. If you say “Well, it really puts things in perspective” – you don’t really have to add anything to it, so much can be said with a single phrase.
You can use variations of this phrase – “to get perspective on”, “to see something in perspective”. “You should get perspective on your life and maybe you’ll start to understand why things always go wrong for you.” “[Person #1] Listen, I think I haven’t been fair to my wife on occasions, she’s not the only one giving hard time to the partner. [Person #2] You see – you’ve started seeing your marriage in perspective!”
I’m not in a position to…
This phrase is a formal way of declaring that you’re not able to do something. In practical terms you can use this phrase when you explain that you can’t perform a certain task or provide requested information because you need to consult with someone with bigger authority before you can do what’s asked from you, for example: “I had to wait on my supervisor to come in because I’m not in a position to tell the girls on the production floor what to do.”
This English phrase is also quite often used as a polite refusal to do something if you don’t want to go into details or if you don’t want to share confidential information. You’d often hear politicians use a phrase “I’m not in a position to comment on this right now” if they don’t want to speculate on something and would rather prefer to consult with their colleagues so that they come up with the best answer.
So whenever you find yourself in a situation when you can’t take action, provide information or voice your opinion because you’re restricted by your position in an organization, you’re not competent enough to do it or you don’t want to jump to rash conclusions, you can use this smart and handy phrase – “I’m not in a position to…”
In some way, shape, or form
This phrase doesn’t really allow you to substitute a couple of sentences of explanations with a single phrase because all it means is – in some way, somehow. I still chose to add it onto the list of phrases on this blog post because it sounds smart, and after all – we have to admit that sometimes a longer sentence just sounds better.
“We’ll have to come up with a new product packaging solution which in some way, shape or form would represent our company’s core values.”
I might as well just say: “We’ll have to come up with new product packaging which represents our company’s core values” and the message wouldn’t be lost by omitting the phrase “in some way, shape or form”. Still… I think that if you include the phrase, it adds a certain depth to your message; you’re kind of implying that there might be countless solutions and it’s going to be hard work, but you’ll still have to make it happen and somehow you’ll get it done.
You can also use the same phrase to emphasize a negation, you can use it whenever you’d say “in any way” when denying something.
“I have never been involved in any way, shape or form in the activities you’re accusing me of!” In this example the phrase is used effectively to make a very strong claim – when speaking, you’d stress every one of those words – “way, shape, or form” – to make a triple emphasis on the fact that you’re not involved in those activities you’re accused of.
You can rest assured that…
… is a more formal way of saying “don’t worry; I’ll take care of it”. This phrase is very useful working with customers and can be used to reassure them of certainty of your commitment to them. For instance, if you work at a service desk of some service provider, you can use this phrase if a customer voices concerns of some sort. “Last time the technician arrived ten minutes past two and I had already left. Can you make sure he’s not late this time?” “I’m sorry to hear you had to spend another weekend without broadband; this time I’ll leave specific instructions to the technician and you can rest assured that he’s going to stick to the specific hours.”
Just compare these two sentences – “Don’t worry, we’ll figure out a way to make it happen” and “Please rest assured that we’ll find the best possible solution”. You have to agree that the second sentence rings with authority and will give the customer a peace of mind while the first one might not completely calm them down.
Speaking in terms of…
I simply love this phrase because it allows you to give weight to what you’re saying and you’re going to sound so much more fluent! Compare these two sentences – “If we look at how efficient the production process is it’s rather obvious there’s lot of improvement to be made” and “Speaking in terms of efficiency of the production process, it’s rather obvious there’s lot of improvement to be made”. The phrase “speaking in terms of” sounds smart, and creates an impression you really know what you’re talking about, doesn’t it?
So whenever you would say “in relation to”, “regarding”, “concerning”, “speaking about” or “talking about”, you can use the phrase “speaking in terms of” or simply “in terms of” instead.
Given the importance of…
… is a very handy phrase you can use to start making your point related to something very important. To put it simply, it’s just another way of saying “[The subject] is very important, so…” or “[The subject] is a big issue, so…” but as we concluded previously – sometimes you may want to use a more sophisticated phrase to show yourself in a different light, especially when speaking with your superiors at work, lecturers at a college and similar situations.
“Given the importance of the mounting personal debt levels nationwide, I propose to put more restrictions on the personal loan application process in our bank.”
You can, of course, say “The mounting personal debt levels nationwide is a big issue, so I propose to put more restrictions on the personal loan application process in our bank”; it’s just that I think if you begin the sentence with “given the importance”, it prepares the listener for some proposal or conclusion and it makes them more attentive.
You can’t really start a sentence with: “Given the importance of rising crime figures…” and then NOT give additional information as to what it is that has to be done once the crime level is so high.
In other words – it’s an ideal phrase in situations when you’re talking about some issue and you’re putting forward a solution or concluding what should be done.
A couple more smart English phrases that will come in handy:
Due to unforeseen circumstances
This is a very formal phrase and you can use it to explain a situation when something unexpected happened. Most likely you’ve heard it before in official cancellation announcements on TV or radio news – “The show has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances; we’ll reveal more details in the next news update.”
Given the right circumstances OR given the right conditions
This phrase is used to state, for example, that certain things are likely to happen or that you would do something if certain conditions are met. “Given the right circumstances, I could overcome my fear of heights.”
Such is the complexity of the issue, that…
You can begin a sentence with this phrase if you want to describe how difficult is the issue at hand. “Such is the complexity of the issue, that I can’t think of a single strategy to solve the problem.”
Irrespective of the results
Use this phrase to emphasize that certain things would or should happen no matter what the outcome is. “You should abstain from using alcohol irrespective of the pregnancy test results – just in case the test is faulty.”
To draw parallels between
This is figurative way of saying that you find similarities between certain things or events, for example an event from the past and something that’s happening right now. “I think we can draw parallels between current financial crisis and the one preceding the Big Depression in the beginning of the 20th century.”
All things being equal
… simply means that your statement is true if everything happens as expected. “I should make it back to LA by Thursday, all things being equal.” You can also use this phrase when comparing something to stress that your statement is true if other circumstances remain the same – “Unfortunately natural athletes will lose to drug enhanced athletes nine times out of ten, all other things being equal.”
The bottom line is
This is a very handy phrase you can use when ending a conversation or a presentation and you want to make one last statement to conclude all that was said previously. “So, the bottom line is – irrespective of the variety of different research results we looked at, you should not consume any amount of alcohol before driving!”
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Make sure you learn at least a couple of phrases I mentioned in this blog post – believe me, you’ll find practical application to them sooner than you think! Just use spaced repetition to memorize them and you’ll be able to produce those phrases automatically.
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!