Phrase of the day: saying it is one thing; meaning it is another.

Jon Wright is the author of the wonderful Idioms Organiser, for our money perhaps the best self-study book on idioms on the market. Just before Christmas, I was lucky enough to catch Jon talking at the English UK South-West conference near Exeter. Jon spoke at length about the way that students who’ve studied a lot of structural grammar and learned lots of words still struggle to sound fluent or natural due to the fact that they’ve not yet learned how to package their ideas in conventionally accepted ways. He also talked about an idea close to our hearts: the generative power of a good chunk. Traditionally, it’s been structural grammar that we’ve been trained to think of as generative, but the reality is that we make endless sentences using simple frames or chunks as a foundation. Today’s chunk is drawn from an example Jon gave in his session.

This chunk could be introduced any time that relatively competent try to say that one thing is different to another. For instance, a student may say:

When you want to do something, that’s very different from doing it, in fact.

The teacher can say “Yes, I know what you mean” and then reformulate this onto the board as:

Wanting something is one thing; going out and getting it is quite another.

Wanting is one thing; doing another!

You could then ask students to think of three more things that are similar, but different, and to write / come up with sentences about them using the same frames.

Alternatively, the chunk could be slipped in via teacher talking time or brought out if an example occurs in a text you’re looking at.

The advantage of these approaches is that you may have time to prepare a brief exercise around sentence halves. For instance, you could put students in pairs, give them the halves below and ask them to think of good endings for each. You could then elicit ideas from the class and see who has the best sentences.

Studying is one thing; . . .

Announcing new projects is one thing; . . .

Romance is one thing; . . .

Setting up a business is one thing; . . .

You could then get students to think about where the stresses in each sentence might be and / or drill each chunk.

You could perhaps also briefly show / practise subtle variations on the chunk such as:

It’s one thing to create a team, but quite another to create teamwork.

It’s one thing to see something, but quite another to actually understand what you’re seeing.

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