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September 2013

English Expressions

English Expression: Before You Know it

“Before you know it” is an English expression that means that something will happen very fast – perhaps faster than expected. It often is used for people doing something, for example “before you know it, he was gone”, “before you know it, she got upset.”

I would like to point out that the grammar of this expression and how it fits with the rest of the sentence is not perfect. For example the proper way to say the first example would probably be “before one could know what was happening, he was gone.” For some American English expressions, however, it is OK if the grammar is not perfect – as a matter of fact, often if you said it the “proper” way, it would not really be an expression anymore.


Some other examples of “before you know it”, if you are talking about how it rained very suddenly when out on the golf course, you could say, “before you know it, it started raining cats and dogs.” Ah ha – like I love to do every now and then, I slipped in another fun expression: “raining cats and dogs,” which means, by the way, that it is raining very hard (I don’t think anyone really knows why it is “cats and dogs” instead of, say “pigs and sheep” …). I better end this paragraph now. Otherwise, “before you know it” I will add another expression :).

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How to Learn English

English Vocabulary: The number of English words you need to know.

If you travel to English speaking countries for a short stay, you may successfully go shopping and eat at beautiful restaurants with limited vocabulary. For example, you may say like this in a shopping mall: “I want this”, “Credit card”, “Thank you”.

Some immigrants living in the US or UK say that they do not have any inconvenience in their lives and can express themselves sufficiently with limited vocabulary – for example with as little as 2,000 words. In fact, people say that American businessmen usually use only about 2,000 words every day (Of course, this does not mean that their vocabulary is only 2,000).


We are sure that your English speaking goal is more ambitious that just learning enough for shopping or living in a small community. You may need to communicate with native speakers about serious matters every minute and every day. If we assume that the average vocabulary of English native speaker college graduates is 100,000, then you need 50~60% of that if you want to travel conveniently or run a small shop in English speaking countries. If you need to negotiate and discuss in a business situation with English native speakers, your English should be at least 70% of that.

Of course, this may vary depending on specific situations. If you run a small shop and you just need a relatively small vocabulary to sell your products and receive money, without the need for talking about your neighbors or other interesting topics, your vocabulary requirement can be significantly smaller. If you work in an American or UK company but talk only with your colleagues in your first language and have very few opportunities to talk with your boss in English, the vocabulary number is meaningless – the point is that your vocabulary needs to be enough for your situation.

Let’s talk about how to improve your English vocabulary in our next post.


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English Expressions

English Expression: Rise to the Occasion

“Whenever Joe is called to cook for his family and friends he always rises to the occasion.” The English expression rise to the occasion is a good way to say that someone is known to do a very good job when he is required to do something.

rise to the occasion

For example, let’s consider a rock star. Some rock stars seem like very ordinary people when they are not on a stage performing but whenever they are up on that stage they always rise to the occasion. This expression is used often to describe people you know when you are talking with others about them. For example the 4 girlfriends were all enjoying a drink, and Cindy was talking about her husband. “George may be lazy on weekends, but whenever I ask him to take over cooking some steak on the barbeque, he always rises to the occasion.” Or, let’s take a school environment Mary was talking with Sally about their friend Katy. Mary said, “Katy doesn’t really study that much, but whenever she takes a test she has a way of rising to the occasion and ending up with a good grade.”

Best regards,

Oliver, Teaching Director