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Words to a formula!

Language learners are always keen to learn new words. Instead of thinking of individual words, it is often useful to think of words in connection with other words with which they frequently appear. English, like many other languages, has a lot of "formulaic phrases". These are phrases which are normally fixed or change very little. It is therefore very useful to learn these phrases.

Fixed phrases

Fixed phrases never change. That means we cannot replace any word with another word. The phrase is always exactly the same. Here is an example: by the way. "By the way" is used in spoken English when you are having a conversation with someone and then want to introduce a new subject to talk about or if you wish to add some further information:

"I think we've discussed everything we need to discuss. Oh, by the way, will you be coming to the sales meeting next week?"

Profits were up 5% last month which, by the way, was our best month since opening.

Another fixed phrase is golden opportunity. A golden opportunity means a wonderful chance. Because it is a fixed phrase, we cannot change it to a "silver opportunity", for example.

He is going to work in Germany for two years so that will give him a golden opportunity to improve his knowledge of German.

Flexible phrases

Some formulaic expressions can be changed, but only slightly. For example, pronouns, articles or verb tenses may be changed. On the way is one example of this type of expression. For instance, we can say:

"I had a slight accident on my way to work..."

or "He had a slight accident on his way to work..."

Look at the formulaic phrases below and use them to fill gaps in the sentences. They are all very commonly used phrases, particularly in spoken English. Be careful with the flexible phrases, you may need to change some of the words!

Fixed phrases

Flexible phrases

in short supply make up your mind
by and large take your time
meet someone half way
1. We are considering going to Italy for our holiday this year but we haven't yet.
2. There are a few areas that we've still got problems with, but I think we have solved all the major issues.
3. If you are willing to us on price, we can consider earlier delivery dates.
4. I'm afraid you'll have to use the machine downstairs. Computers are round here.
5. Tell Geoff he can . We don't need to leave for another hour.

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