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When we speak and write, we repeat a lot of phrases and clauses, such as on the other hand, a lot of, at the moment, you know, you see, I mean. Some of these phrases, or chunks of language, are very common and they have specific meanings.

Chunks in speaking

We use chunks like you know, you know what I mean, I know what you’re saying to check and show understanding between speaker and listener:

[company employees talking]

A:

You ask for a report and you end up with a hundred pages. You know what I mean?

B:

Yeah. I know what you’re saying.

We use you see as a discourse marker when we are explaining something. It shows that what we are saying is new information for the listener:

But he’s trying to send us an email and I’m having some trouble with the computer, you see.

We use chunks of vague language such as and that kind of thing, and that sort of thing, and so on, and things like that, and stuff like that to talk about collections of things without having to make a long list:

… when you start your final year and you come to ask for help on getting jobs and that kind of thing, you’ll be asked to fill in a form describing the work you did last summer …

We use chunks like having said that and saying that to show that what we are going to say next is in contrast to what we have just said:

But, having said that, what her mother’s been doing is running her into school and picking her up …

Chunks in writing

We use many chunks in writing. They help us to structure what we write:

The most lethal weapon on earth is the human mind; but on the other hand it is only the mind that is capable of envisioning what is humanly desirable and what is not.

Exports were slightly higher than imports, and as a result, there was a positive trade balance.

First of all, working procedures could be standardised, so that orders can be clearly performed.

… he identifies and examines the various ways in which a wide variety of ‘change agents’ – industrial workers, social workers, church ministers, politicians, protest leaders, business and professional people, housewives, youth and community institutions and so forth – made such progress possible.

Chunks as frames

Some chunks don’t look complete (I don’t know if, in the middle of). These usually help make up or frame sentences:

I don’t know if

We often use I don’t know if … as a frame for questions that start conversations:

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Canberra.

I don’t know if you saw that film on TV last night.

You know the

We use you know the … when we are telling stories or introducing a person, place or thing which the listener already knows about:

A:

You know the guy who used to call around selling lottery tickets?

B:

Yeah. I remember him.

A:

Well I saw him the other day, wearing a pinstriped suit.

You know the shop on the corner, that’s the one that got broken into.

(“Chunks” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press. Need grammar practice? Try English Grammar Today with Workbook.)

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