Unfold in real time

When you see events "unfold in real time", you watch them as they happen

Today's story: Dam collapse in Brazil
Explore more: Lesson #127
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Unfold in real time

The word I want to tell you about today is “unfold,” but not in the sense that you probably already know. The way you probably know it is like, you fold a piece of paper in half. Then you unfold it. You fold a pair of pants to put them in your dresser; then you unfold them when you’re ready to put them on again. That’s not what it means in this case.

In this case, when you say “events unfold” or a disaster unfolds, it means more like events happen slowly and you see them step by step. In the original context, I said that a new video shows the destruction unfolding in real time. That means that the video shows the destruction happening step by step. You can see the huge dam start to shake, then the face of it start to fall, then collapse; next, you see the river of mud rushing into the town; and then, tragically, you can see it flood over vehicles that were trying to escape. So you can see the situation developing gradually: you can see events unfold on video in real time.

If you’re watching a basketball game and one team does really well, you might say that you watched the drama unfold on the basketball court. You watched it develop, you watched it happen step by step. In a movie or a play, you might be watching and wondering how events are going to unfold as the story progresses.

It’s common to say that events “unfold before your eyes,” or “unfold before your very eyes,” when you want to stress that someone would see things happen step by step. It’s very dramatic to say that. If you go to a magic show, the magician might promise that you’ll see magic unfold before your very eyes—that’s something that a showman might say to promote the show. Come see magic unfold before your very eyes.

It’s also possible to use “unfold” when talking about something complicated or dramatic, even if you’re not watching it. Those of you in Brazil watched as an enormous scandal unfolded over several years—the Car Wash scandal. How are the next steps on Brexit going to unfold? What are the steps, what’s the sequence of events? How is the second half of Trump’s presidency going to unfold? Is it going to be the same as the first half; will he change his tactics as he starts thinking about re-election? How is he going to work with the opposition party in Congress? How is the second half of his presidency going to unfold?


That’s all for today’s episode. Don’t forget our partner MosaLingua, at PlainEnglish.com/learn. And the newest way to connect with us via WhatsApp at +1 312 967 8757.

Oh—coming up on Monday—the polar vortex! A lot of you who connected on WhatsApp wanted to know how I survived the super cold in Chicago—I hate to admit it, but I actually wasn’t here for it! I was in New York. But the super cold made big news around the world, and of course it was a big deal here, so that will be what we talk about on Monday. See you then!

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Story: Dam collapse in Brazil