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A Bossy Podcast

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I’m Bossy, by F.Lady/flickr

Before we begin, I have an apology to make. In the last podcast, about the Archers, I talked about a woman whom I called “Helen Carter” and her new baby. I should have said “Helen Archer”. I do not know why I got her name wrong. Perhaps I am getting old. When you get old, you do things like walking into a room and then forgetting why you are there. Some people call this a “senior moment”. Perhaps I had a “senior moment” while I was making the podcast.

Do you know the English word “bossy”? Your manager at work is your “boss”. He or she tells you to do things. Someone who is “bossy” is a person who is always telling other people what to do. We can say that a bossy person “bosses other people about” or “bosses other people around”. I am sure you know someone who is bossy. Are you a bossy person yourself? Of course not!

It is easy to be bossy in English, because we have lots of different bossy words. Here are some of them:

  • must
  • have to (sometimes we say “have got to”)
  • need to
  • ought to
  • should

“Must” and “ought to” are incomplete verbs. That means that they exist only in the present tense. You can say “I must go to the shops today”. You cannot say “I musted go to the shops yesterday”. Instead, you should say “I had to go to the shops yesterday”.

Here is Joanne’s boss at work. She is an incredibly bossy person, and she uses the bossy words all the time.

“You need to finish writing your report by tomorrow. You must show me the report before you show it to anyone else. When I have agreed the report, you should send copies to everyone else in the Department. You will have to make about 10 extra copies. You ought to arrange a meeting next week so that everyone can discuss the report.”

Joanne smiles brightly at her boss. She has already finished the report. She knows that her boss will agree it, so she has already made the copies, and arranged the meeting.

When Joanne gets home, she finds that Kevin is already there. She switches the TV off (“But the film had just started”, protests Kevin), and makes Kevin sit down and talk to her. Kevin and Joanne are planning a party for their friends to celebrate Kevin’s birthday.

“First, we need to write a list of people to invite. Then we have to think what food and drink we will need and write a shopping list. Oh, and I must tell the people next door about the party – last time they objected to the noise! We ought to invite my mother (“No!” says Kevin in horror.) Alright, we won’t invite my mother, but we have got to go and see her soon, perhaps next weekend.”

When Joanne talks to Kevin, she uses the same “bossy” words as her boss used. But Joanne is talking about herself. She says “I must….we have to…..” and so on. So she doesn’t sound bossy, unlike her boss at work. In fact, it is not a good idea to talk to other people in English in the way that Joanne’s bossy boss does. We have lots of ways of telling people what we want them to do, without using the bossy words. Perhaps you could rewrite what Joanne’s boss said so that it sounds more polite and less bossy.

That is the end of this bossy podcast. To finish, here are some bossy messages from Listen to English:

  • You must learn 10 new English words every day.
  • You have got to do your English homework.
  • You ought to read an English newspaper or listen to the radio in English.
  • You need to revise English irregular verbs.
  • You should listen to Listen to English podcasts – the fun way to improve your English listening skills.


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