Take a look at the following words. Which one do you think does NOT belong with the others?

dress up             fall down            eat down                  get back            

Phrasal verbs are combinations of words that perform the function of a verb.

These combinations include a verb and either an adverb or a preposition. Each pair forms one complete semantic unit because the words that comprise a phrasal verb describe a single action.

In the above word group, each pair makes sense except for one: eat down. We can say:

  • Dress up – to dress in a fancy way
  • Fall down – to fall on the ground
  • Get back – to return
  • Eat up – to eat more

We do not say, “eat down,” because eat & down have no meaning when put together. We will examine phrasal verbs in more detail later on in this section.

Take a look at the following words. Which one do you think does NOT belong with the others?

“just pulling your leg”   “it’s Greek to me”’    “keep your chin up”   “tan on the beach”


Idiomatic Expressions are commonly used in English to express particular meanings indirectly and figuratively.

The idioms from the group above are:

  • Just pulling your leg” – means “Just joking
  • “It’s Greek to me!” – means “I don’t understand it
  • “Keep your chin up” – means “Be positive

The only phrase that doesn’t belong is “tan on the beach,” because it is the only expression that conveys a literal, non-figurative, meaning.

Here are some more examples of idioms:

  • “down in the dumps” – feeling sad or depressed
  • “feeling under the weather” – feeling sick
  • “close, but no cigar” – very close, but not quite close enough
  • “until the cows come home” – for a very long time
  • “raining cats and dogs” – very hard rain
  • “this is a piece of cake” – this is very easy
  • “a slap on the wrist” – a mild punishment
  • “costs an arm and a leg” – very expensive
  • “hold your horses” – wait with patience
  • “all in the same boat” – in the same situation
  • “a loose cannon” – unpredictable person
  • “when pigs fly” – never; expressing impossibility

As you may have inferred, it is pretty much impossible to understand the meanings of idioms without learning them directly or being exposed to them in context. Although they may seem similar, the difference between idioms and “slang” is that idioms are rarely rude or offensive and are not tied to locale, informal cliques, and “street talk” as much as slang tends to be.

Now take a look at the following words. Which one do you think does NOT belong with the others?

“color the truth”                   “passed away”            “collateral damage”             “to die”


Euphemisms are words or expressions that are used to say something that may be considered harsh in a polite, discrete, less direct, rude, or offensive way.

The euphemisms above are: 

  • to color the truth” – to lie
  • to pass away”– to die
  • collateral damage” – accidental death

The only phrase from the group above that isn’t a euphemism is “to die.”

It is difficult for students to understand the euphemisms they hear, especially as they vary between English-speaking countries. The following are more examples of commonly-used euphemisms that students can memorize and practice in class:

  • letting someone go – firing someone
  • visually impaired – blind
  • pre-owned vehicles – used cars
  • stretching the truth – lying
  • put to sleep – euthanasia (used only with animals)

Take a look at the following words. Which one do you think does NOT belong with the others?

YOLO                       hella                    bae               party    


As EFL students become exposed to English by listening to and watching movies and other sources, they will come across slang. Slang is meant to be comical and is inappropriate in formal situations.

From the list above:  

  • “YOLO – an acronym for “You Only Live Once” and is said to justify (often unintelligent) actions someone takes
  • “hella”– this word basically means ‘very’
  • “bae” – an acronym for “Before Anyone Else”  and also short for “babe” or “baby.” A term of endearment.

There are numerous words that continue to be added to informal speech every day through popular use. The following is a list of a slang that can be introduced to students through fun activities:

  • airhead – person who is not very bright/intelligent
  • to pull an all-nighter – stay up all night without sleeping
  • to have a ball – to have a fun time
  • to catch a break – to get a good chance or have something good happen in life
  • to deck – to hit someone in the face
  • to have deep pockets – to be rich
  • to be a dinosaur – to be very old

Now take a look at the following words. Which one do you think does NOT belong with the others?

kid                       this                     kind                    win  

Lexical Sets

Lexical Sets are a group of words sharing the same topic, function or form.

All of the words above share the same short “i” sound, except for one: “kind.” When words have any feature in common, they can be grouped into lexical sets. Some other possible lexical sets include:

  • Words that belong to the same part of speech (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.)
  • Words that fall under the same topic (sports, weather, food, business, etc.)
  • Words that have similar meanings or functions (synonyms, language skills, things that fly, famous people)

The following lexical set is comprised of names of occupations:

  • roofer
  • lawyer
  • police officer
  • teacher
  • bus driver

The use of lexical sets will be discussed again later in Unit 7 – Section 3 on Phonology.

Take a look at the following words. Which one do you think does NOT belong with the others?

basement           redhead              baseball              notebook


Compounds occur when two words are joined to form a new word.

Looking at the words above, there is only one word that is not comprised of two different words; basement. All the others are two words combined to make one word:

  • redhead – red & head
  • baseball – base & ball
  • notebook – note & book

Take a look at the following words. Which one do you think does NOT belong with the others?

 hot wind          manual labor               skinny jeans                heavy snowfall


Collocations are two or more words that often go together.

From the list above, three of the four are phrases in English that often go together, while one of them doesn’t: hot wind. Native English speakers use the other three naturally and often:

  • skinny jeans – tight jeans
  • manual labor – physical work with hands
  • heavy snowfall – in contrast to light snowflakes, heavy snowfall refers to large, harder falling, damp snow.

The adjective “hot” is not typically used to describe “wind.” The closest collocation would be a “warm breeze.” Wind is often described as gusty or cold, but “hot?” Not so often.

Let’s examine another adjective: strong. Strong is often combined with other nouns to form collocations.

  • strong results (good outcomes)

Janet’s strong results on the LSAT landed her a spot at Yale.

  • strong wind (wind that blows with force)

The strong wind blew the chairs over.

  • strong accent (a marked, characteristic speech pattern)

He speaks with a strong German accent.

  • strong coffee (a condensed and potent brew)

I need strong coffee to wake me up in the mornings.

Now take a look at the following collocations:

  • utterly stupid = adverb + adjective
  • excruciating pain = adjective + noun
  • light rain = adjective + noun
  • commit suicide = verb + noun

Each of these word groups are collocations made from combinations of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc. They are words that naturally go together in the English language.

There are some combinations of words that might seem similar, but actually do not go together in English, such as:

  • utterly smart
  • excruciating joy
  • light lightning
  • commit a shower

The best way to teach collocations is to introduce them by topic (i.e., sports, weather, transportation, etc.) or by word (make money, make it happen, make a pizza, make a deal, make it work, etc.). Collocations do not follow a logical pattern, and repeated exposure through listening and reading will help students memorize and internalize the more popular ones.

Take a look at the following words. Which one do you think does NOT belong?

flock                    soldier                          army                   team

Collective Nouns

Collective Nouns refers to a number (or collection) of people or things together and referred to as one unit

It’s easy right? They all represent a groups except for soldier.

  • flock (of birds)
  • army (of soldiers)
  • (baseball) team

Soldier only describes a single person, not a group of people or things.

Collective nouns exist in singular form, but represent a collection of different nouns. They are similar to collocations in that they only pair with certain nouns. For example, it would be incorrect to say “a flock of dogs” or “a herd of penguins.” Other common collective nouns include:

  • a fleet (of ships)
  • an audience (of people)
  • a swarm (of bees)
  • a school (of fish)
  • a gang (of people)
  • a family
  • a crowd (of people)

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