TEFL teachers: Taken by surprise…

Occasionally, students (or others) may ask you about the meaning of words and expressions you commonly use. While trying to give some explanations or definitions, you realise that this is not easy.

Here are some examples.

Prepositional phrases

  • What is the difference in meaning between to be on time” versus “to be in time”, “to walk to the park” versus “to walk towards the park, “to be at the airport” versus “to be in the airport”…, and why is it dangerous to be “on the airport”?
  • What is the difference between “still”, “yet”, “already”, and “just”?
  • How come “while” and “during” basically have the same meaning but cannot be used interchangeably?
  • What is the difference between “with”, “between” and “amongst”, “in” and “inside”, “on” and “upon”, to be “by the desk”, “at the desk” and “next to the desk”?
  • Furthermore, what is the difference between “in front of” and “opposite”, and why do we “pay by credit card”, but “in cash”, we “travel by bus/train” etc., but we “walk on foot”.
  • When do we say “at the end of” versus “in the end”, and when are you “underway”?
  • Why do you “make the dinner”, but you “do the cooking”?
  • Why do “to carry on” mean two very different things in the following sentences:
    • “You should carry on studying” compared to “You should carry the food on a tray”?
    • What does it mean “to be up to” or “to be about to”?


How would you explain the meaning of the following expressions?

  • to show what you are made of
  • to be keyed up
  • to get down to business
  • to deal with
  • to be taken by surprise
  • to be taken into account
  • by any chance
  • at all
  • even though

Or the compound adjectives:

  • big-headed, smooth-talking, high-spirited, cool-headed, and why are some hyphened while others are not?

Something to think about while you are ”chilling out” on your holidays

Chilling out