We foreign English speakers often speak too complicated. Why go the extra mile every time you want to say something and explain the whole situation in the very detail?
Compare the two sentences “So what do you think about our management trying to recoup some of the lost profits by cutting our wages?” and “So what do you think about the whole wage cuts thing?”
The first sentence details the topic you’re discussing; the second one gets straight to the matter without wasting much time on explaining what’s already known to both people involved in the conversation. Also, it sounds more friendly and casual, and you can definitely ease any tension that’s present between you and the person you’re taking to ❗
Say for instance, you find yourself sharing a launch break with someone you haven’t spoken a lot with, so you’re a bit uncomfortable with that person. Then he or she makes a casual comment about something going on in the company, it’s just small talk really. Now, if you respond with “Yes, the whole thing looks pretty bad all right!” it’s going to sound much better than “Yes, I agree, there’s not enough resources available to our management to complete the new building”.
The first phrase is a very common way of confirming the other person’s opinion and sounds friendly enough. You really don’t need to repeat what the other person said to you, so a short phrase “The whole thing about…” is totally OK as a reply.
Of course, if you’re having a formal conversation you wouldn’t risk being taken for a person with bad manners, so you would probably explain everything in more detail. If you’re chatting with a friend of yours, on the other hand, why beat around the bush? It’s so much more convenient to use the amazing English word “THING” to describe nearly everything you want!
Yes, if you just think about it, you can use “THING” in plenty of small talk phrases, and it makes it so much easier for us foreign English speakers to communicate effectively.
English Small Talk Phrases With “THING”
What do you think about the whole … thing? – a handy way to ask for someone’s opinion on something that the other person is already familiar with. Basically you don’t need to explain the problem in detail, you just use one or two words before the word “thing” that would make it clear what the story is about. Moreover, you don’t have to make sure they correspond to the rest of the sentence in terms of grammar, just stick them in – “So what do you think about the whole who gets the best score thing?” “What do you think about the whole promotion thing?”
This whole … thing looks really messed up (pretty bad etc.) – the same as previous phrase – just stick the relevant word or words in between the words “whole” and “thing” – and there you go! You have a perfect way of making a comment about some problem. “This whole bank bailout thing looks really messed up!”
The thing is that … – this is a great way to start explaining your point when someone asks you to explain something. A more formal way of responding to a question would be “The reason for… is the following…” or “Let me explain you why…” or whatever would be the most fitting sentence for a particular occasion. “The thing is that…” is a universal phrase you can use in nearly all situations when you’re asked to explain something!
The funny thing is that… – here’s a variation of the previous small-talk phrase, and pretty much the only difference is the word “funny” attached to the phrase which makes it useful in situations when you’re describing something ironic. For example, you’ve gone to the gym with your friend and just before entering the shower you’re saying: “The funny thing is that I forgot to put the towel into my gym bag… How am I going to towel off now?!”
Here’s the thing … – this English small talk phrase is a brilliant way to start a conversation if you want to make an offer, ask for a favor or advice, or explain a problem. “OK, here’s the thing – I can’t make it to 9:30 tomorrow morning, can you fill in for me?”
How are things? – a typical greeting phrase you can use when addressing people you’re familiar with or if you get to know them in a less formal setting – “Hi Tom, how are things?” You can also say “How’s things?” – and don’t get confused by bad grammar in the phrase. Conversational English is full of grammar “mistakes”! 😉
Things are looking up – means that you’re satisfied with your life and everything seems to be happening for the better.
Things are pretty bad – this is what you’d say if you’re asked “How are you?” or “How are things?” and you have to admit that you’re in a pretty bad situation at the moment. Normally though, unless you’re in really deep trouble, don’t start crying on someone’s shoulder. On 9 occasions out of 10 the average person would say that everything is fine even if they had some issues. It’s a way of programming yourself for success ❗
There’s one more thing – just another way of saying “I have something else to say in this regard”.
The great thing about… is that… – here’s how you start a sentence when describing positive side of something: “The great thing about smartphones is that you can browse the Internet just as if you’re using a tablet!”
English Collocations With the Word “THING”
Do the right thing – this is a typical way of saying that one has to do what’s right and listen to one’s conscience.
Sure thing – this collocation which is also an idiom at the same time (but do we really need to know what exactly it is to be able to use it in real life conversations?) can be used both as an affirmative reply and part of a sentence where you explain that something is very certain. So if your friend invites you round to his house tonight, you can tell him – “Sure thing!” And if you’re asked what type of a beverage you’re going for, your response could be “Come on, don’t you know beer is a sure thing for me?”
The real thing – you can use this collocation to describe something you really like or something whose authenticity can’t be disputed. Let’s say for instance, you’re looking at a very expensive sports car on the street – you can use “the real thing” to say “Yeah, that’s the real thing!”
Sort of thing – is a collocation used in phrases like “I’m not into that sort of thing” or “That’s the sort of thing I like!” It’s a casual way of commenting on something that your chat partner talks or asks you about. “How about we do a parachute jump?” “Sorry pal, but I’m not into that sort of thing!”
Type thing – similar to a collocation “sort of thing”. Most commonly used in phrases beginning with “It’s a type of thing…”
Nicest thing – I’d imagine this collocation is normally used by girls in phrases like “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!”
The next big thing – when you’re describing a breakthrough in science and technology, you can describe it as the next big thing – “Did you know cloud computing is the next big thing?”
In the thick of things – this is a way of describing buzzing activity. “Sorry, I’ll get back to you later on, I’m in the thick of things now!” – is what you’d say if you were very busy at work and a friend of yours rang you to have a chat about something. “I got caught up in the thick of things” – you can use this phrase to explain that you got very busy with something due to certain circumstances.
First thing in the morning – when you promise someone to do something very early in the morning, you can use this collocation. Typically it’s used at work when you make promises to your customers or superiors – “OK, our technician is coming to your house first thing in the morning, so may rest assured you’ll even get to watch the morning news when he’s gone!”
It’s a thing of the past – you can use this phrase to refer to traditions people don’t observe any more, or when talking about outdated things in general. “Analogue phones are the thing of the past, and now it actually would be cool to own one!”
To have a thing for – you can use this English idiomatic expression to refer to someone having a crush on a member of the opposite sex. Typically it’s used when talking about some guy liking a girl – “I think Jesse has a thing for Jessica, but he’s too shy to admit it!”
“THING” Can Substitute Nearly ANY Word You Don’t Know!
It’s not uncommon for native English speakers to use the word “thing” instead of finding the right word – especially if they’re in a hurry. I’m not saying you have to start speaking using super-simple language – my point is that you don’t have to stress out whenever you’re stuck for words.
“Can you pass me that thing, please?” is a typical example of how you would ask your work colleague to give you a hole punch from her table if the name of the item had slipped your mind. It does happen to me every now and then and instead of trying to strain my memory to remember the name of the particular item by all means, I just point at it and use the word “thing”.
Here in Ireland, by the way, we have another word for “thing” which is “yoke”. It’s got nothing to do with the English word “yoke” because its origins are in the Irish language, I guess. Anyway – it’s used quite often in small talk and practical conversations. I recall an Irish work colleague of mine once complained that everything for her son is “yoke” these days – yoke this and yoke that. Well, it goes to show that once even natives go into such “extremes”, it’s totally OK for foreigners like us to use “thing” here and there when having a quick chat with someone! 🙂
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!