Sometimes my students get really grumpy (in a bad mood) when they learn that the same word can function as different parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) and that it can have many different meanings. In fact, many will try to argue with me. “Teacher,” they’ll say angrily, “I learned (…) means (…)!” “It can,” I try to explain, “but it can also mean (…).” With words like these, students need to look at the context and the grammatical structure of the sentence to figure out how the word is being used.
Let’s look at an example—the word “down.”
As an adverb, down refers to a location:
He set his pencil down. (on the table)
Put the gun down! (on the floor)
Sit down! (in your chair)
As a preposition, it also refers to a location.
Her earring went down the drain. (inside the drain)
The rain poured down the window. (from top to bottom)
My friend lives down the block. (further along)
As part of a phrasal verb, verb + down has many meanings.
He asked her to marry him, but she turned him down. (refused)
I’m counting on you. Don’t let me down! (disappoint me)
Don’t bring me down! (make depressed)
Slow down! (reduce your speed)
Quiet down! (reduce your volume)
He’s dieting to slim down. (reduce your weight)
As an adjective, down also has a number of meanings.
Q: Do you want to go to a movie?
A: Sure. I’m down for that. (willing to)
I have a down jacket that I wear when it’s cold. (made from bird feathers)
As an idiom (part of a noun), it has yet other meanings.
I need more down time. (free time, time to relax)
All these meanings for one word might seem confusing, but the context usually makes the meaning very clear.
Practice: What does “down” mean in each of the following? (Answers Below)
- I need to be at the airport tomorrow by 6:00 a.m. If I’m late, I’ll miss my plane. Please don’t let me down like you did last time when you overslept. You’ve got to be on time.
- If you’re going camping, you’ll want to buy a down sleeping bag. It can get really cold at night.
- The dog kept trying to steal my dinner right off the table. I yelled at him to “Get down!”
- In my down time, I love to walk outside.
- When I feel down, I call my friends or family.
- This vacation, I want to go with a few friends to beach. Would you be down for that?
- What’s happening down the hall? It’s really noisy. Whoever it is needs to quiet down!
- disappoint me
- off the table
- free time
- willing to
- further along / be more quiet