let off: meaning and explanation

to let someone off = to allow someone to escape without punishment (or without full punishment) when they have done something wrong.

For example, imagine one of your employees makes a big mistake and loses a client. This is serious – normally you would give the employee a warning or even fire them. However, you know that the employee has been having problems at home, and you want to give him another chance. You decide to let him off – you don’t punish him.

If you use the phrasal verb on its own (e.g. I was late for work 5 times in a row, but my boss let me off), then you are saying that the person avoided punishment completely.

If they were given a smaller or reduced punishment, then you can specify this using ‘to let sb off with sth…’. e.g. Because it was his first offence, the judge decided not to send the teenage car thief to prison, and let him off off with a fine.

This phrasal verb can also be used as a noun: a let off. This communicates the idea of something being a lucky escape. e.g. Arsenal were very lucky not to lose that game. It was a real let off for them.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this phrasal verb being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: Ireland

speeding but the police with a .
I caught speeding but some reason the police me off with a .

…for some reason the police let me off

For some reason is a useful phrase to use when we are unable to explain something. e.g. The conference was cancelled but for some reason they didn’t tell me.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Have you ever done something wrong but not been punished (or given a smaller punishment than you expected)?
  • When was the last time you let somebody off?

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opt in 1

to opt in: meaning and explanation

If you opt into something or opt in to do something, then you agree to participate in something or do something. e.g. We offer a generous pension scheme which our employees can opt into if they wish.

This phrasal verb is commonly used to describe an official or explicit decision to participate in something. By choosing to participate, you are accepting certain rules or conditions.

When you buy something online for example, you will probably see an option to receive further communications from the company. If you tick this box, then you are opting in and the company is able to send you marketing emails.

We can use the phrasal verb opt out with the reverse meaning, when we choose not to participate or be involved in something. This is often used for things which people are automatically involved in unless they decide to no longer participate. e.g. All new employees are added to the company’s health insurance scheme, unless they decide to opt out. 

Opt-in and opt-out can be used as a nouns, e.g. We have managed to negotiate an opt-out from future projects.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this phrasal verb being used in context – how much can you understand?

Micro-listening

Accent: North America

Source: Planet Money, Billboards. This episode looks at how billboards continue to be the most effective form of advertising. In this section, the speaker is giving an example of the way that new technology allows billboard advertisements to be highly personalised.

. , . , : " Macy's".
Say you up to the third floor mall. If you've share your data, that you're . So when you elevator, the mall billboard : "Shoes are 20% Macy's".
Say you to go up to the third floor of a mall. If you've in to share data, advertisers know that you're for shoes. So when you step that elevator, the mall billboard say: "Shoes are 20% at Macy's".

…say you were to go up to the third floor of a mall…

Say is being used here to introduce a hypothetical situation as an example. e.g. Say you won the lottery. Would you keep working?

Notice the alternative structure for the 2nd conditional (to describe unreal or hypothetical situations in the present): If + subject + were + infinitive. e.g. If you were to spend a little less money on clothes, then you would probably be able to afford a bigger place.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Have you opted out of anything recently?
  • As of this year, the UK will have an opt-out system for organ donation. What do you think this means?
  • Do you normally opt into or out of marketing emails?

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rule out 0

rule out: meaning and explanation

If you rule something out, then you eliminate it as an option and no longer consider it. e.g. I think we can rule out having the Christmas party on the roof terrace of The Shard – we just can’t afford it this year.

Ruling something out can also be used to say that something is impossible, or definitely won’t happen. e.g. During his speech, the Prime Minister ruled out the possibility of stepping down before the next election. 

This phrasal verb is often used with the noun ‘possibility’ – to rule out the possibility of something happening.

This phrasal verb is often use negatively to say that something is still an option or a possibility. e.g. I think it is unlikely that we’ll be making additional redundancies this year, but I wouldn’t rule it out completely.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this phrasal verb being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: North America

Although it’s , we can’t that someone fire .
Although it’s very likely, we can’t out the that someone started fire deliberately.

…someone started the fire deliberately

Deliberately is a useful synonym of on purpose or intentionally.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Think about your life over the next 5 years. Is there anything that you think definitely won’t happen?
  • Do you have any plans for the weekend? Is there anything that you are not considering as an option?

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back down 8

back down: meaning and explanation

If you back down, then you accept or admit that you are wrong about something, or you accept that you have lost an argument or fight. e.g. The argument went on all night, but my brother eventually backed down and apologised.

This phrasal verb can be used negatively to describe a situation in which someone will not admit that they are wrong or have lost an argument. They won’t back down. e.g. It was obvious that he had made a big mistake, but he wouldn’t back down.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this phrasal verb being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: Ireland

, .
He’s – he he’s , but to .
He’s so – he knows he’s the wrong, but refuses to down.

…He’s so stubborn

If someone is stubborn, then it is difficult to change their mind, attitude or position on something, even if they are probably wrong. This is synonymous with the word determined, but has more negative connotations.

…he knows he’s in the wrong…

If you say that someone involved in an argument is in the wrong, then you are saying that they are responsible for the argument or have done something bad or morally wrong. e.g. Sorry, but I’m not the one who is in the wrong here.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Are you a stubborn person or do you back down when you know you are in the wrong?
  • Can you remember a time when someone refused to back down?

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