Words with Multiple Meanings: “Cause” and “Check Out”

When you’re reading and reach for your dictionary, don’t be in too much of a hurry.

Protesters marching for a causeLet’s look at the word cause, a word which came up in my reading class today. Like my students, you probably already know one common meaning of causecause & effect. A cause makes something happen. It is the reason why. However, if you jump to that conclusion when reading, you might be wrong. What about in these sentences?

  • Raising awareness about global warming is a cause the protester is passionate about.
  • They contribute to many environmental causes.
  • I hope that our next President will take up the cause of income inequality.

Clearly, defining cause as “reason why” in the above sentences, doesn’t make sense. Here cause means a political fight or movement to change some problem that exists in the world. Practice this new meaning by talking or writing about the following questions:

What causes are you passionate about? What causes do you support? Why?

Phrasal verbs—verbs that include a preposition or adverbial—can also have multiple meanings.

In today’s class, we came across the verb check out.

Check out a new restaurantWhen you see this verb, you probably get a mental picture of a cash register:  Check out: to finish a purchase. You think of checking out at the grocery store or giving your credit card number for an on-line purchase.But in our book, the sentence read:

The only reason the city fixes the potholes in the road is so tourists will come and check out the local attractions.

Clearly, this doesn’t mean buy them. They are coming to sight-see or look at something. You could check out a new restaurant or check out an attractive person a couple of seats away from you on the bus.

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