Straighten out

To "straighten out" is to resolve an issue or make something crooked straight again

Today's story: Leaning Tower of Pisa
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Straighten out

Today’s word is a phrasal verb, and that English phrasal verb is “straighten out.” There are two ways to use “straighten out,” so let’s start with the way you originally heard it.

Scientists in the early 1990s decided they needed to straighten out the Leaning Tower of Pisa, since it was leaning too much to one side. It was in danger of falling over, since it leaned farther and farther to one side each year. They needed to straighten it out. They needed to make it more, well, straight. It was leaning to one side; they needed to straighten it out so it didn’t fall over.

You might be driving on a windy road; it curves left, it curves right, it curves back left again. But then maybe the road straightens out. After a while, there are no more curves, and it’s just a straight road going forward. You would say the road straightens out after all the curves are behind you.

Have you ever hung a picture on the wall and discovered…it’s not quite centered? It’s kind of tilting to one side? But you can never see that when you’re up on the ladder hammering the nail in the wall, can you?. You need to step back a few feet to see if it’s straight. And if it’s off center, you need to straighten it out a little bit.

So that is the first way to use it. When you have something that is tilted or curvy or bended and it becomes straight. Or, straight-er anyway. Scientists straightened out the Leaning Tower of Pisa (at least a little bit); a road or a river can straighten out if it’s not curving anymore; and you can straighten out a picture you hang on the wall.

The other way to use “straighten out” is to resolve a difficult problem or situation. I need to straighten out things with my roommate, you might say. You’d say that if you’re having some problems with your roommate. Maybe you need to have a conversation about splitting household chores or paying the rent on time. I need to straighten things out with my roommate. I think many of us have had to do that at work, right? If you’re having a disagreement with a colleague, or a misunderstanding, you need to straighten things out with that person.

You might know somebody that was, let’s say, not on the right path in life. Maybe he or she was involved in drugs or crime or just didn’t have the right priorities. But we all know people like that who straighten out, right? A lot of people find themselves on the wrong path, not doing the right things in life, but they do find a way to make better decisions. They find a way to straighten themselves out.

You can say you need to straighten out your finances, if you’re not quite in control of your budget.

So that’s straighten out—a couple ways to use that very good English phrasal verb.


That’s all for today. Did you hear the episode we did about Lady Gaga and the movie, “A Star Is Born”? We had a little bit of technical difficulty with that one. If you pressed play and heard the wrong episode, just fast-forward to about 20 minutes into that file and you’ll hear the right episode. If you didn’t hear that episode, it’s a good one; just check it out at PlainEnglish.com/104. I wouldn’t want you to miss it just based on a small technical problem we had.

We will be back with you again on Thursday. Thanks for being with us as always.

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Story: Leaning Tower of Pisa