I learned something that day: Phones can be distracting! And I remembered how useful warnings are.
To warn someone means to tell the person about possible danger or trouble. In English, there are several ways to do this.
Today on Everyday Grammar, we will talk about warning phrases Americans use in different situations.
Some warnings are urgent and immediate. Others are a form of direct or indirect advice — often about what not to do.
Let us talk first about warnings of immediate danger.
When warning someone of danger, you can say, “Watch out!” just like the man said to me on the street. You can also say, “Look out!” or “Be careful!”
For example, it could be that a moving vehicle or large animal is near. Or you might want to tell someone quickly that they will fall or crash into something or someone. Or you see a heavy object is going to drop or hit someone.
Listen to these warnings:
Look out for that tree!
Watch out! There’s a car coming.
Be careful! The floor is wet.
Americans often say, “Careful!” instead of “Be Careful!” Short, quick warnings of danger can be very effective.
Note also that we sometimes use “Careful” or “Be careful” in situations that are not urgent. For instance, if someone touches a valuable item and you want them to do it carefully, you can say, “Please be careful.” Or, if someone you know plans to walk around alone at night, you can tell them to be careful.
Another kind of warning is an indirect warning, sometimes called a weak warning. These are just like giving advice — yet they are advice about what not to do. You probably would only give such warnings to people you know.
Indirect: I wouldn’t if I were you
One of the most common ways we advise someone against doing something is with the phrase, “I wouldn’t…if I were you.”
Listen to an example:
I wouldn’t eat that if I were you. It’s been sitting in the refrigerator for two weeks.
Some Americans leave out the if-clause “if I were you.” Here is what that sounds like:
I wouldn’t eat that. It’s been sitting in the refrigerator for two weeks.
I will say more about using if-clauses in warnings shortly.
Indirect: I don’t think you should
Another phrase we use in advising about what not to do is “I don’t think you should.” Here is an example:
I don’t think you should take off your mask. You might spread or catch the virus.
Again, keep in mind that a phrase like “I don’t think you should” is something we would not use on strangers.
Now, let’s talk about direct warnings, also known as strong warnings.
One kind of direct warning tells someone that something bad will happen if he or she does or doesn’t do something. For these, we usually use a conditional clause, also called an if-clause, which expresses a condition.
Listen to some examples:
If you go hiking alone, you will get lost.
I am going to take your electronics away if you don’t finish your schoolwork.
In both examples, the if-clause appears on one side of the sentence. The result appears on the other side.
Other strong warnings involve direct commands about not doing something. These often begin with the word “Don’t.” Take a listen:
Don’t check your phone when crossing the street.
I’ll be back in an hour. Don’t answer the door for anyone.
Notice that the subject is missing from the start of both commands. You may remember that, in English, the command form leaves out the subject.
Keep in mind that some of these commands can be considered friendly advice, such as when we say “Don’t forget…” like this:
Don’t forget to bring water. You got thirsty the last time.
Another kind of warning is an explicit warning. We give these to prepare someone for an unpleasant experience.
In explicit warnings, Americans usually use the word “warning,” saying things like, “I’m warning you” or “I must warn you.” Depending on the situation, these can be friendly — or they can be threats.
Here is a friendly explicit warning:
OK, we can do it that way. But just a word of warning: It will be much more difficult.
And, finally, an example of an unfriendly threat:
I’m warning you: If you do that again, there will be problems.
Oh, no! I don’t like the sound of that. Hopefully, you never hear that one being used.
Well, that is our program for this week. But just one last warning: If you don’t try the grammar exercise, you will miss a chance to practice your English.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Practice Giving Warnings
Now, you try it! Give a warning for each of these situations.
1-At the zoo, you notice your niece is standing close to a fence. A large animal is walking quickly toward her. What do you say?
2-Your family wants to go to a famous restaurant. You are willing to go but want to tell them that the food is very expensive. What do you say?
3-At the library, you don’t know that a chair is broken as you begin to sit on it. What should someone say to you?
4-A friend tells you he/she is going to take a flight. But you don't think that is a good idea because of coronavirus. What do you say?
5-There is broken glass on a supermarket floor. A stranger does not see the glass and is going to step on it. What do you say?
6-You are driving to your friend’s house as a heavy rainstorm begins. You are on the phone with this friend. What should he/she tell you?
Words in This Story
distracting - adj. causing a person to stop paying attention to something and to pay attention to something else instead
item - n. An individual thing
refrigerator - n. a device or room that is used to keep food and drinks cold
mask - n. a covering used to protect your face or cover your mouth
clause - n. a part of a sentence that has its own subject and verb
hiking - n. The act of walking a long distance especially for pleasure or exercise
thirsty - adj. having an uncomfortable feeling because you need something to drink
practice - v. To do something again and again in order to get better at it
fence - n. a structure built outdoors that separates two areas or prevents people or animals from entering or leaving
expensive - adj. costing a lot of money
6 Minute English
Should we wear a face mask?
EPISODE 200702 / 02 JUL 2020
With the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, people in many countries around the world have started wearing face masks to protect both themselves and others they come into contact with. In this programme Rob and Sam discuss whether wearing masks in public can help prevent the spread of coronavirus in the community.
This week's question
When and where were face masks first widely used? Was it:
a) 1855 in Vienna,
b) 1905 in Chicago, or
c) 1955 in London.
Listen to the programme to find out the answer.
difficult to interpret because it seems to have two opposite or contradictory meanings
it stands to reason (that)
is obviously true from the facts
discussion or argument in which people become angry and excited
sending out into the air, for example a noise or smell or a virus
criticising, mocking or humiliating someone for not wearing a face covering
false sense of security
belief that you are safe when you are not
Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript
Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Rob.
And I’m Sam.
With the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, people in many countries around the world have started wearing face masks to protect both themselves and others they come into contact with. In this programme we’ll be asking whether wearing masks in public can help prevent the spread of coronavirus in the community.
Face masks have long been popular in some Asian countries but with the spread of Covid- 19, they’re increasingly being seen in other parts of the world too.
Wearing a protective mask or face covering is nothing new. Medical masks have a long history from the plagues of medieval Europe to nineteenth century outbreaks of cholera in the United States, but when did they start to be commonly used? That’s my quiz question for today: when and where were face masks first widely used? Was it:
a) 1855 in Vienna,
b) 1905 in Chicago, or
c) 1955 in London.
Well, you mentioned cholera outbreaks in the US, so I’ll say b) 1905 in Chicago.
Right Sam, we’ll find out later if you were right. Now, face masks may inspire confidence but what is the evidence that they actually protect the wearer from contracting the virus or prevent infected people from spreading the virus to others?
Professor Robert West has conducted a review of over twenty studies looking into the evidence. Here he is speaking to the BBC World Service programme Health Check…
Professor Robert West
The evidence is equivocal on it. It doesn’t tell you anything yet - hopefully that will change. So we’re thrown back on first principles and this is why, as in so many areas of public health, you get such a heated debate because people are really relying on their opinion on things and you will have one group who say, 'Well, it stands to reason',- the good old ‘stands to reason’ argument – which is: obviously, if you’ve got a covering in front of your face, and you’re speaking or coughing into that covering, it’s going to trap quite a lot of the virus on the droplets you’ll be emitting.
So far the evidence over whether face masks are helpful or harmful is equivocal – difficult to interpret because it seems to have two opposite or contradictory meanings. Based on current evidence, Professor West feels we cannot say whether mask-wearing is beneficial.
Some evidence suggests that wearing masks can prevent the disease spreading and some suggests the opposite.
There may be reasons why wearing masks could actually increase the spread of coronavirus.
However for some people, it stands to reason that masks are beneficial– meaning it is obviously true from the facts.
Actually, the evidence is far from obvious. But everyone has an opinion on the issue and after weeks of stressful lockdown, this can lead to heated debate – discussion or argument in which people become angry and excited.
Up until recently, the World Health Organisation said there were two groups who definitely should wear masks: people showing symptoms of the virus and their carers.
But that left the problem of people who have the virus without knowing it and maybe unintentionally emitting it – sending something out into the air, for example a noise or smell, or in this case, coronavirus. In June the WHO advice changed – now they say masks should be worn in public where social distancing measures are not possible.
But the advantages of wearing masks might be outweighed by other considerations, as Professor West explains…
Professor Robert West
It could also have unfortunate negative consequencesin terms of mask shaming – that people feel compelled to wear masks in situations where it’s actually not helpful and may be harmful because it’s expected of them and they feel that they would be judged if they didn’t. But I think in addition to that, one of the problems we have is that masks can potentially create a false sense of security.
One negative effect is the practice of mask shaming – criticising or humiliating someone for not wearing a face covering.
Another problem is that wearing masks might create a false sense of security – a feeling of being safer than you really are. Is that what happened in 1905 Rob?
Ah yes, today’s quiz question. I asked you when face masks were first widely used?
And I said, b) 1905 in Chicago.
Well done Sam, you were absolutely right! It was 1905 in Chicago when Dr Alice Hamilton first noticed that carers wearing masks to treat scarlet fever patients, did not get sick.
Interesting. Today we we’ve been discussing whether wearing masks helps prevent infected people emitting – or sending out, coronavirus.
So far the evidence is equivocal – unclear because it seems contradictory. In other words, we can’t say either way for certain.
But for some, it stands to reason - meaning it’s obviously true - that mask-wearing is a good idea.
This disagreement over wearing face coverings has started heated debate – that’s discussion which becomes angry or excited.
And this in turn has led to incidents of mask shaming – criticising or mocking people for not wearing a face mask.
A final drawback is that masks might give the wearer a false sense of security – that’s belief that they are safe when they are not.
That’s all we’ve got time for today.
Bye for now!