In this video I’m going to teach you a trick for using longer expressions, sayings and
proverbs in your conversations like a native!
Native English speakers will often use famous quotes, proverbs, sayings and other long expressions
in their conversations.
But because these are used so often, and most adult natives have heard them again and again,
natives will shorten these expressions.
So the simple trick to sounding more like a native when you speak – and to making
these popular groups of words more memorable – is to shorten longer expressions the same
way natives do!
There are a few simple rules for shortening phrases that work most of the time, so we’ll
cover those before reviewing the phrases.
But as you listen for longer expressions in movies, TV shows and your conversations, you’ll
develop a good sense for when to shorten them, automatically.
Now, let’s get to some phrases and rules for when to shorten them!
First, longer expressions are shortened when they’re often used and very well-known.
The full expressions are taught to children, but adults will regularly shorten them.
Second, you can usually remove what comes after a comma in longer expressions.
Finally, you can shorten a longer expression if what’s left isn’t confusing.
Let’s cover some examples to make these rules clear.
Don’t make a mountain out of an anthill.
You’ll also hear this as don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill, and this means
to not make some small issue or problem bigger or more important than it really is.
But can we shorten it?
No, because there’s no point we can cut off the saying and still have it be clear.
“Don’t make a mountain” doesn’t really make sense, so say the whole phrase.
Always put your best foot forward.
This means to present your best self, especially when starting something.
Or to try really hard.
People will often hear this from friends before going to a job interview.
But according to our rules, can it be shortened?
“Always put your best.”
Your best what?
It isn’t very clear.
You need the whole thing for the saying to be understood.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
This means to not take on more of a challenge than you can really handle.
Don’t say you can do a job that takes two weeks in a single day.
Can we shorten it?
No, we can’t.
“Don’t bite off more.”
This will leave people wondering what you might be talking about, so use the whole expression.
Now, let’s look at some common examples that CAN be shortened.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
This means that you envy or want what you don’t have.
It’s also a way of saying that you don’t appreciate what you do have.
Now, this is used so often that you’ll regularly hear it shortened to just “the grass is
Someone with a new car is envied until someone else gets a newer car.
The first person is now a bit jealous, so you can remind them to appreciate what they
have by saying that “the grass is always greener.”
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
This means that unless you’ve received something for certain, don’t assume you’ll get it.
Some chicken eggs don’t have baby chicks inside, so don’t assume you have 10 chicks
just because you see 10 eggs.
This is also shortened because it’s used so often, but how much of the phrase should
The shortest amount you can say and still be clear is “Don’t count your chickens.”
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
This means that if you have a strong enough desire, you will find a way to accomplish
Your will is your desire to succeed.
People with a strong will usually do what they like and won’t accept failure.
As this is so common, and there’s a comma, it should be easy to guess how you shorten
it: “Where there’s a will.”
If a friend of yours is complaining because they’re too tired to do something, you can
remind them to keep going by saying “Where there’s a will.”
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
This means you should behave as is customary where you are.
If you travel to a different country, though some things might seem odd, try them anyway.
Here again, you can shorten this to – you guessed it – “When in Rome…”
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
This expression means that when things become difficult, strong people keep fighting.
The “going” refers to the action or situation that’s happening.
So when the situation “gets tough,” or difficult, the “tough,” or strong people,
Again, this is a commonly used expression, and we’ve got a comma, so: “When the going
Birds of a feather flock together.
This means that people usually spend time with people like themselves.
This is understood as birds that have the same kind of feathers, so the same kind of
birds, spend time together.
A flock is a group of birds.
Skateboarders hang out with skateboarders, horse racers spend time with horse racers,
Since this phrase is so common, when you see a group of people who look similar in the
same place, you can describe this with just “Birds of a feather.”
"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."
This means to remain positive, but to also prepare in case things don’t go well.
So, whether natives say this to themselves or others, all they unusually say of this
very common phrase is “Hope for the best.”
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
This means to not disturb things that are working well.
If a sports team is winning, don’t change the coach.
Note that “ain’t” is used here, rather than the correct “isn’t” because ain’t
sounds more casual and conversational.
Remind people not to create problems when everything is fine by saying “If it ain’t
"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
This is another useful expression to say that if you can’t win, you should join the winning
This can be for actual sports teams, or for things like professionals who leave one company
for a more successful competitor.
Note that the more casual “‘em” is a shortened form of “them.”
Again, if people already know what you mean, there’s no need to say the whole thing.
Where can we shorten this?
At the comma!
“If you can’t beat ‘em…”
13 If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
This phrase is often used in frustration when a boss or higher level person isn’t pleased
with the work of someone lower in an organization or group.
The person is saying that no one can do the job as well as I can.
As this is common, and there’s a comma, it’s shortened to “If you want something
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
This means that when you have an indication of something, like a rumor or clue, there’s
a good reason for it.
If you see smoke somewhere, for example, it’s likely coming from a fire.
Similarly, if a child is skipping school, getting bad grades and getting into fights,
this is the “smoke” that lets you know there’s likely some deeper problem causing
the bad behavior.
You see the comma, so this becomes, “Where there’s smoke…”
Finally, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.
This means you can only help people so much.
A teacher, for example, can show the path to knowledge.
But it’s then on the students to do the work of learning.
If you’re ever frustrated because you did everything you could to help someone and they
just didn’t take action, you’d say, “You can lead a horse to water…”
One last tip I’ll leave you with is to take longer expressions and then try typing them
The autocomplete function will usually show you whether an expression can be shortened
And if so, where.
I’m Drew Badger, the founder of EnglishAnyone.com, and thank you so much for joining me today.
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