Get away with

To “get away with” something means you do something bad and escape punishment.

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Get away with

Today’s expression is a phrasal verb: to “get away with” something. The most common way to use this is when you do something bad and escape punishment. “To get away with murder” means you murder someone and you never get caught. You never face punishment. You get away with it.

Remember when we talked about the university admissions scandal ? Parents—and it was the parents, not the kids—parents faked college applications, doctoring photographs and making up awards and accomplishments, all trying to make their kids look more impressive than they were. Eventually, the scandal came to light and the parents were punished. They did not get away with it—not those famous parents who went to jail or paid fines. But who are we kidding? We know that many parents did get away with that exact same thing; we just don’t know their names.

How about a less serious example? Kids try to get away with things all the time. Kids try to get away with not studying, not doing homework. Strict parents don’t let their kids get away with anything: those strict parents enforce all the rules. Lenient parents might let their kids get away with more. Did you get away with a lot as a kid? Could you fake an illness, for example, and skip school?

So that’s the most common way to use “get away with,” to do something wrong and escape punishment. But there is a softer way to use it. You can say “get away with” to mean that there would not be serious consequences to doing something. And it doesn’t have to be something morally wrong.

In conversation, many people are uncomfortable adding extra intonation to their voices. They’re worried that they’ll sound less authentic if they appear to be adding too much emotion to their voices. But the truth is, you can get away with adding more emotion than you think you can.

When I say that, what I mean is, you can add more intonation to your voice without suffering any consequences. Your conversation partner won’t be bothered by more intonation in your voice. You won’t suffer any consequences by adding more intonation to your voice. Notice, we’re not talking about matters of right and wrong.

Here’s another example. If you’re trying to lose weight, you might be counting your calories. You might be faithfully eating in that calorie deficit day in and day out, hopefully seeing results on the scale. But you can get away with a few indulgences here or there. Once every couple of weeks, you can probably get away with eating more than your planned calories. Not too much more, but a little more. It can help emotionally and won’t hurt you in the long run. You can get away with making an exception every few weeks.

At work, we make proposals for new business. When we’re trying to win a project with a brand-new client, we’ll make big fancy proposals with great pictures and graphics and stuff. But if we’re proposing to do a project with a client that already knows us, we can get away with just a few pages. We don’t need all the pictures and graphics. We can get away with something a little simpler. We can get away with it; we won’t suffer negative consequences. If a client knows us, likes us, and trusts us, they’re not going to reject us because we didn’t have a beautiful proposal document. In those cases, we can get away with something a bit simpler. Again, this is not a question of right and wrong—it’s about finding the right level of effort without suffering consequences.

If I’m ever really tired, would you guys let me get away with just repeating a lesson? Like, you wake up on a Thursday and there’s a lesson about why Zoom video calls are so tiring . And you think to yourself, wait a minute. Wait just a minute, I think I’ve heard this before! I don’t think you’d let me get away with that. I wouldn’t even try to get away with that.

But there are some things I can get away with. If I’m feeling lazy, I might just pick a topic that doesn’t require any research . I’ve got a few in the back of my mind for the future. Every once in a while, I can get away with writing a lesson from memory or about my own experiences .

JR’s song of the week

JR’s song of the week is version of the Donna Summer song “Hot Stuff”, but the version is by the DJ Kygo. Now there’s a combination I didn’t see coming. Kygo is house music DJ and Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco. It’s a good version, so “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer, the Kygo version.

See you next time!

That’s all for the audio portion of today’s lesson. Remember we also have the video lesson online at PlainEnglish.com/339. You know I try to make the video lessons about the most useful ways to use the language. And often those video lessons are hard. We’re talking about logic, probabilities, comparisons, things like that. But just today, I think we can get away with an easy one. Today’s video lesson is about how to express surprise in a sentence. If you can’t express surprise with your smile, then you can use this phrase.

It’s a really easy one, so if you watch those video lessons, today’s almost like a day off. Still watch it! But it’s not too hard. We can get away with an easy one every now and then, right?

That’s all. We’ll be back on Monday with a new lesson, like always.

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