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Unit 35. I'll Believe It when I See It!

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Fixed Phrases and Idioms in Speech Units

Unit 35; Part A

Fixed phrases and idioms are usually said together in one speech unit rather than being divided across speech units. For example:
    // It's a race against timetrying to do something quickly because there is only a short time in which to fnish it// to get help to the refugees before winter.
 
   is more likely than:
    // It's a race// against time// to get help to the refugees before winter.

    It was so noisy in the room// I
could barely hear myself thinkthere was so much noise that it was almost impossible to hear anything//.
  
  is more likely than:
    It was so noisy in the room// I could barely// hear myself think//.


note.jpgNote: Longer idioms are more commonly divided into two or more speech units:
//I could count// on the fingers of one hand// the number of times I've seen her this year.

Unit 35; Part B

Many fixed phrases and idioms are usually said with two prominent syllables, one of which is in the last word:
35.1.jpg     // what with ONE thing and aNOther// I forgot all about her birthday.
    
= (the reason I forgot is that I was very busy)
    
     He's been around so long// he's just PART of the FURniture//.
    
= (so familiar that I no longer notice him)

     A: Why don't you ask them for your money back?
     B: Well// that's EAsier said than DONE//.
   
  = (it's a good idea, but it's difficult)

    They want me to go to Taiwan in January,// but that's OUT of the QUEStion//.
    
= (cannot possibly happen)

Other examples include:
    a RACE against TIME
    it's just ONE of those THINGS
    to CALL it a DAY
    to SLIP [my] MIND
     I COULDn't believe my EYES

Unit 35; Part C

In some other fixed phrases and idioms, the last prominent syllable is not in the last word (see also Unit 36):
       She says she's going to get a new job// but I'll beLIEVE it when I SEE it//.
      
= (I don't think it will happen)
     
       Somehow// we'd GOT our WIRES crossed// and she tured up a week early.
      
= (we had understood things diferently)

       They'd like me to invest in the company now// but I want to SEE how the WND'S blowing// first.
    
   (= see how the situation develops before making a decision)

       // I've HAD my MONey's worth// out of this old car. I only paid £5OO for it and I've been driving it for years.
     
  = (it was good value)

Other examples include:
       THROW [ your] WEIGHT around
       [it]'s NOT to be SNEEZED at
       PUT [your] FOOT down
       a WHOLE new BALL game

 



Exercises

flag.jpgRuth returns Maggie's phone call and leaves this message on her answering machine. Seven of the speech unit boundaries marked in Ruth's message (with //) are unlikely to occur because they split fixed phrases and idioms. Cross out the boundaries you think should not be marked.
Key.35.6.jpg 
35.2.jpg

Now listen and check your predictions.
 

 
flag.jpgListen to these sentences with fixed phrases and idioms and underline the last prominent syllable in each. (Note: each sentence has just one speech unit.)
Key.1    Don't jump to conclusions.   
2    They're putting a brave face on it.   
3    He's had a change of heart.   
4    You can say that again.
5    You may well ask.
6    He took them in his stride.

Example: Not in the slightest.
1    Don't jump to conclusions.   
2    They're putting a brave face on it.   
3    He's had a change of heart.   
4    You can say that again.
5    You may well ask.
6    He took them in his stride.

Now listen again and repeat the sentences, putting prominence on the correct syllables. Make sure you say each sentence in one speech unit, running the words together smoothly without pauses.
flag.jpgUse the sentences with fixed phrases and idioms in exercise 2 (including the example) to complete this conversation.
Key.35.4.jpg

A: How did Nick get on in his exams last week?
B: He took them in his stride.                 
A: Didn't get nervous?
B: (1)                                                         
A: I suppose he'll be off to university next year?
B: (2)                                                    
A: But I thought he wanted to be a doctor.
B: (3)                                                     
A: He'd be crazy not to go to university.
B: (4)                                                    
A: His parents must be really annoyed.
B: (5) _____________________________
A: So what does he want to do now?
B: (6) _____________________________


Now listen and check your answers. Finally, play the recording again. Press 'pause' before each B part and read it aloud. Then press 'play' again and compare your pronunciation with what follows.

Follow up: When you learn a new short fixed phrase or idiom, practise saying it as one speech unit. You may need to check with your teacher or a native speaker of English which syllables are made prominent.

 
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