Phrase of the day: To let down (Part II)

August 30, 2009

to let down


In the last post, I mentioned that the more obvious definition of “to let down” is to bring something down.  

The less obvious meaning is the more abstract meaning of to disappoint.  It is a transitive verb requiring both a subject and object.  The noun form is letdown.

The movie was a letdown. (Equivalent meaning: The movie was a disappointment.) 


To talk about who has been disappointed, the object must be inserted between let down. If the object is a personal pronoun, it will be in the objective case.  

The movie let me down. (Equivalent meaning: The movie disappointed me.)


Besides the progressive form, the verb let down does not inflect for tense or change for subject-verb agreement. 

His son was afraid of letting him down. (Equivalent meaning: His son was afraid of disappointing him.)

The movie let him down.

The two movies let him down.


To talk about a habitual disappointment, just add “has/have/had” in front:

 He has let me down every time. (Equivalent meaning: He has disappointed me every time.)

They have let me down every time. (Equivalent meaning: They have disappointed me every time.)


You could use let down to talk about the future also:

 I hope you could attend the conference with me this Saturday.  You won’t/will not let me down, right? (Equivalent meaning: You will not disappoint me, right?)

 At this point, you might ask why English speakers use to let down instead of to disappoint or letdown instead of disappointment.  Like all phrasal verbs, to let down is used in informal settings.  Learning how to use it properly will make your speech more personable.  Being able to comprehend it will allow you to communicate with native speakers, who use them all the time!  Besides, letdown only has two syllables while disappointment has four!

Phrase of the Day: To let down (Part I)

August 23, 2009



To learn the meaning of a word or phrase means knowing its many uses, especially the more common ones.  Words like run, get, put, and fall have over 200 definitions in the Oxford dictionary!  The word let is also a very common English word and when partnered with different words generate different meanings.   


In fact, when combined with down, the verb form to let down has two meanings.  (Only the first meaning will be discussed here.  Stay tuned for my next entry for the second meaning.)  The more obvious one is to bring something down like curtains like “Please let down the curtains.”  This is not too difficult to understand as the curtains should then be lowered or move downwards by the listener.  Notice that the object (curtains) is placed behind the verb (let down).


There is a famous German fairy tale about a girl named Rapunzel who was trapped in a tower in the middle of the woods but whose songs attracted a prince.  He called out to her, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” And, when she did, he climbed it to ask her to marry him as her hair was long and strong like a rope.  It is a Cinderella-like story where this line has become popular. 


Stay tuned for the second and more abstract meaning of let down!

Phrase of the Day: Give it a shot!

August 7, 2009

‘Give (something) a shot’ is an idiom which means to give something a try.  The difference is that ‘give it a shot’ is used for activities that last for a short time or may be a one-time deal while ‘give it a try’ is used for activities that last for a longer period of time (i.e. Give the job a try).  ‘Give it a shot’ is usually used colloquially.  Here are various ways that it may be used:


John, why don’t you give the question a shot?

Speaker is asking John to answer the question.


John, it’s your turn to give the question a shot.

Speaker is also asking John to answer the question.  However, it is less polite than the above command which is in the form of a question. (I mentioned before that commands in the form of questions tend to be more polite.) 


Well, that’s my opinion.  Now, do you want to give it a shot?

Speaker is concluding his/her response and passing the opportunity to speak to the next speaker.  This is a more unique than simply asking “What do you think?”


John, give it a shot!  If you need help, let me know.

Speaker is asking John to try an activity and telling him that if he needed help, he should ask. 


John, give the interview a shot, I have faith in you.

Speaker is asking John to go for an interview and telling him that he/she has faith in him.