On top of the world

This is the first in a series of posts about prepositions of location — demonstrated by our cats! (because everyone loves cute cat pictures, right?)

This is Mojo, the nicest of our seven cats, and in this picture he’s on top of the world — literally!

a cat sitting on a globe box

On top of the world is an idiom that means “extremely happy” — and, yes, Mojo’s always a very happy cat. I said literally, though, which means I’m not using the phrase as an idiom. Literally means that each word has its original meaning. It’s not an idiom, metaphor, or exaggeration. There’s a globe of the world, and Mojo is actually sitting on top of it.

I’m sure all of you know the classic Carpenters song “Top Of The World.” The meaning of the song is very simple: I’m extremely happy because you love me.

(By the way, the Carpenters sing “I’m on the top of the world” because it fits the music better, but usually we don’t say “the top.”)

1. Contrasting on top of, on, and at the top of

On top of is very similar to on, but the meaning is more specific. On means “resting on or connected to the surface of….” It could be the top, side, or bottom surface. We can also use on to talk about marks on a surface, or about the clothes a person is wearing. Look at these examples.

  • Mojo is on the box.
  • There’s a light switch on the wall.
  • There’s a picture of a globe on the box.
  • Mojo has stripes on his body.
  • Mojo’s collar is very stylish. It looks good on him!
  • There’s a bell on his collar.

On top of means, more specifically, “resting on the top surface of….” In the six examples above, only the first one could use on top of.

If you mean “on or in the top part of…,” you should use the phrase at the top of.

  • Please write your name at the top of the test paper.
  • His office is at the top of a 12-story building.

2. Special uses of on top of

In addition to the literal meaning, on top of can mean “in addition to.”

  • On top of going to college full-time, he also works at a local restaurant.
  • I got a nice bonus last month on top of my regular salary.

It can also mean that you are in control of a situation, or that your information is up to date.

  • We’re having a few technical difficulties, but don’t worry. Our staff are on top of the situation and should have everything running properly soon.
  • Doctors need to read medical journals to stay on top of the latest research.

English can be complicated sometimes, but I hope these posts are helping you keep on top of it. What preposition will we talk about next? Well, it all depends on what my cats decide to do!

Eton Royal English School
伊敦皇家英語
彰化市民族路150號
Phone: (04)727-2177
E-mail: eton.changhua@gmail.com
Facebook: @etonenglish

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Using “welcome”

Welcome to “William’s English Tips”! “Welcome” is a word that a lot of Chinese speakers make mistakes with, so I’m going to explain how to use it correctly. If anything is not clear, you’re welcome to leave a comment. Questions and feedback are always welcome.

1. Welcome to + N

When someone has arrived in a place, joined a group, or showed up for an event, you can say something like this.

  • Welcome to our corporate headquarters. Would you like a quick tour of our production facility?
  • Welcome to T.G.I. Friday’s. Do you have a reservation?
  • Welcome to Taiwan! I hope you enjoy your stay in our country.
  • Congratulations on getting hired. Welcome to the team!
  • Welcome to Eton. You’ll learn a ton!

welcome

Notice that “to” is followed by a noun, not a verb. You can’t say “Welcome to study here” or “Welcome to visit our company.” (This is a very common mistake in Taiwan.)

Note that you can only say (for example) “Welcome to my home” to someone who has already arrived at your home. You can’t use that sentence to invite someone to your home.

2. You’re welcome to + V

We use “You’re welcome to” + a verb to say that it’s okay to do something. The meaning is similar to “Feel free to…” or “I don’t mind if you….”

  • Food is not allowed in the classroom, but you’re welcome to bring a water bottle.
  • Mr. Smith won’t be back for two hours. You’re welcome to wait for him, or you can come back later.

3. N + is/are welcome

If we say that something is welcome (or that we welcome something), it means we are happy to receive it.

  • Admission to the museum is free, but donations are welcome. (= but we welcome donations)
  • Questions and comments are welcome. Just raise your hand.
  • Visitors are welcome during business hours.

4. You’re welcome

As I’m sure you already know, “You’re welcome” is a common response to “Thank you.” You can also say the following.

  • No problem.
  • Don’t mention it.
  • It’s nothing.
  • Not at all.
  • Any time.

Any questions? I welcome comments.

Eton Royal English School
伊敦皇家英語
彰化市民族路150號
Phone: (04)727-2177
E-mail: eton.changhua@gmail.com
Facebook: @etonenglish

All hat and no cattle

“He’s all hat and no cattle.” If you say that about someone, it means he’s full of big talk but doesn’t really do anything, or he pretends to be more powerful or important than he really is. The original meaning is that he dresses like a cowboy or a rancher (the owner of a big cattle farm), with a cowboy hat, but he doesn’t actually own any cattle.

All hat and no cattle

  • The mayor is great at giving speeches, but he hasn’t really improved anything in our city. He’s all hat and no cattle.
  • A lot of job applicants have impressive resumes, but we need to interview them carefully to be sure they really have the skills we need. We don’t want to hire someone who’s all hat and no cattle.

English has a lot of idioms with the same meaning, mostly in the form “all .. and no ….” Here are a few others:

  • all show and no substance
  • all talk and no action
  • all bark and no bite
  • all sizzle and no steak (“sizzle” is the sound steak makes when it’s cooking)

A note about cattle

“Cattle” means 牛, but it is only plural. You can say “he has a lot of cattle,” but you can’t talk about “a cattle.” If you want to use a number with the word “cattle,” you normally use the word “head” as a quantifier (for example, “500 head of cattle”). In this way, English is very similar to Chinese (五百頭牛).

If you want to talk about one 牛, there are several different words you can use.

  • cow is an adult female. We get milk from cows. Sometimes “cow” is used in a general way to talk about cattle of either sex.
  • bull is an adult male. Cows are calm, slow-moving animals, but bulls are aggressive and violent, so the feeling of the two words is very different. Don’t say “cow” if you mean “bull”! For example, in Spain people like to watch bullfights, but a “cowfight” would be pretty boring.
  • steer is a castrated (閹割) bull, usually raised for meat. The beef we eat comes from steers.
  • An ox (plural oxen) is also a castrated bull, but it is used for work, not for meat. Wild cattle of both sexes are also called “oxen” sometimes.
  • calf is a baby cow or bull.

Eton Royal English School
伊敦皇家英語
彰化市民族路150號
Phone: (04)727-2177
E-mail: eton.changhua@gmail.com
Facebook: @etonenglish

In mind / in one’s mind / on one’s mind

“In mind,” “in one’s mind,” and “on one’s mind” are quite similar in meaning, but there are important differences in how they’re used. Let’s see if I can clarify.

1. In mind

“Have … in mind” refers to having a specific idea, especially something specific that you want or expect.

  • You say you want to buy a new phone. Did you have a particular brand in mind?
  • A:  Do you want to do something this weekend?
    B: Maybe. What do you have in mind?
  • I don’t like the color of that jacket. I had something darker in mind.

“Keep … in mind” and “bear … in mind” mean to remember to consider something.

  • How much money do you think we’ll need for dinner? Keep in mind that there are six of us.
  • We need to keep our customers’ needs in mind when we design our products.
  • Thanks for your advice. I’ll bear it in mind.

2. In one’s mind

“In one’s mind” is used to talk about someone’s beliefs, opinions, or imagination — especially to contrast it with the real situation or with what other people think.

  • Most people think he’s very rude, but in his mind he’s just being honest.
  • I can’t believe your son is seventeen years old already! In my mind, he’s still a baby.

In the James Taylor song “Carolina In My Mind,” the singer is “going to Carolina in my mind” — which means he isn’t really going to Carolina. He’s just daydreaming about going there.

The Offspring song “Pretty Fly For A White Guy,” they sing: “Friends say he’s trying too hard and he’s not quite hip, but in his own mind he’s the dopest trip.” (Translation: His friends don’t think he’s very cool, but he thinks he’s extremely cool.) His coolness is only “in his own mind.”

3. On one’s mind

If you have something “on your mind,” it means you’ve been thinking about it a lot, and maybe worrying about it.

  • Sorry I forgot to call you. I’ve had a lot on my mind these days.
  • A:  There’s something I want to talk to you about. Do you have a few minutes?
    Sure. What’s on your mind?

The Eagles song “Take It Easy,” the singer has a lot of things to worry about — he has “seven women” and “a world of trouble” on his mind — but he’s trying to forget them and relax.

But the classic example of this phrase is, of course, the Elvis Presley (貓王) song “Always On My Mind.”

Test yourself

See how well you understand these differences. What’s the best way to complete each sentence?

  1. I couldn’t sleep last night because I had too many things ___.
    A. in mind   B. in my mind   C. on my mind
  2. She says she wants to go “somewhere interesting” on our vacation. I wonder what kind of place she has ___.
    A. in mind   B. in her mind   C. on her mind
  3. I don’t really care what kind of car I drive. ___, they’re all just cars.
    A. in mind   B. in my mind   C. on my mind

Post your answers in the comments, and I’ll reveal the correct answers later.

Eton Royal English School
伊敦皇家英語
彰化市民族路150號
Phone: (04)727-2177
E-mail: eton.changhua@gmail.com
Facebook: @etonenglish

Using “enough” correctly

What’s the difference between these two examples?

  1. John doesn’t have enough education.
  2. John’s education isn’t enough.

“Enough” can be used in two quite different ways, but unfortunately grammar books never explain the difference. Let’s see if I can clear it up.

1. Enough + N

In example 1, the word “enough” is right before the noun it modifies: “enough education.” We’re talking about how much education John needs to have. He has some education, but he doesn’t have enough. He needs more education. Here’s a longer example, with context.

  • We’re not going to hire John because he doesn’t have enough education. He only has a bachelor’s degree, but we want someone with a master’s degree for this job.

2. N + be-verb + enough

In example 2, “enough” and the noun (“education”) are not together. They are connected with a be-verb (“isn’t”). We’re talking about all the things John needs to have. He has a good education, but education isn’t enough. He needs something else besides just education. Here’s a longer example with context.

  • John has a PhD from Harvard, but we’re not going to hire him. He has a great education, but education isn’t enough for this job. We need someone with at least five years of experience, but John doesn’t have any experience at all. Also, we’d like someone whose social skills are better than John’s.

More examples

Here are some more pairs of examples to show the difference between “enough + N” and “N + b-verb + enough.”

  • There are 25 people here, but we only have 20 bottles of water. We don’t have enough water.
  • We have plenty of water, but water isn’t enough. We should order some tea and coffee, too.

The first example above means that we need more water. The second example means that we need something else besides just water.

  • My doctor says I don’t get enough vitamins. He gave me some vitamin pills to take every day.
  • I take vitamin pills every day, but my doctor says vitamins aren’t enough. He says I need to get more protein, too, and I also need to exercise more often.

In the first example above, I need more vitamins. In the second example, I need something else besides just vitamins.

  • We don’t have enough conference calls with this customer. We need to arrange calls more often.
  • Conference calls aren’t enough. Sometimes it’s necessary to meet in person.

Okay, I think you get the idea now.

Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough

There’s an old (1992) song by Patty Smyth and Don Henley called “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough.” (“Ain’t” is an informal word that can mean “isn’t,” “aren’t,” or “am not.”)

Chinese speakers might easily misunderstand what the song is about. They think “love just [isn’t] enough” means “We don’t have enough love” or “We don’t love each other enough.”

Actually, the song is about two people who love each other very much — maybe too much — but love isn’t enough. They love each other, but there’s some other reason they can’t be together. Maybe it’s a problem about money or about their families or something like that. They don’t need more love; they already have plenty of love. They need something else besides just love.

But there’s a danger in loving somebody too much,
And it’s sad when you know it’s your heart you can’t trust.
There’s a reason why people don’t stay where they are.
Baby, sometimes, love just ain’t enough.

I think that’s enough explanation — but sometimes explanation isn’t enough. Maybe you should just listen to the song!

Eton Royal English School
伊敦皇家英語
彰化市民族路150號
Phone: (04)727-2177
E-mail: eton.changhua@gmail.com
Facebook: @etonenglish

Thanks for…

When you’ve just finished a speech or presentation, what do you say to the audience? “Thank you for your listening,” right? Wrong! It’s a very common mistake in Taiwan.

 

If you want to thank people for something they did, or for their attitude, you can use these two patterns:

1. Thanks / Thank you + for + Ving

  • Thanks for listening.
  • Thank you for helping me.
  • Thanks for being such a good friend.
  • No, I don’t need any help, but thanks for asking.

2. Thanks / Thank you + for your + N

  • Thank you for your time.
  • Thank you for your attention.
  • Thanks for your patience.
  • Thank you for your assistance.

If you want to thank people for giving you something, you can use this pattern:

3. Thanks / Thank you + for the + N

  • Thanks for the information. It was very helpful.
  • Thank you for the flowers.
  • Thanks for the meal.
  • Thank you for the generous gift.

NOTE: Sometimes the same word can be used as a gerund (Ving) or a noun (N). For example, “understanding” and “warning” are often used as nouns.

  • Thanks for understanding how i feel. (Ving)
  • Thank you for your understanding. (N)
  • Thanks for warning us about the scam. (Ving)
  • Thanks for the warning. (N)

Any questions? Post a comment. Thanks for reading!

Eton Royal English School
伊敦皇家英語
彰化市民族路150號
Phone: (04)727-2177
E-mail: eton.changhua@gmail.com
Facebook: @etonenglish