The English language has a habit of taking a simple short word and using it in a multitude of ways. Today we focus on a common English word and do a thorough analysis to explain all of its common uses. As always, we aim to make our English lessons fun and interesting enough for you to repeat listen, which is key to learning any new language.
Sometimes you hear a word during a conversation, and the trickery and complexity of its use just washes over you. To wash over you means something has happened to you but you didn’t notice, or pay attention to it.
As a native English speaker, it’s difficult to step out of my English language autopilot and to force myself to be in the same frame of mind as a new language learner. It takes practice to stop and actually pull apart even a simple everyday English conversation. However you can help me! If you have any ideas for a podcast that will help you and other language learners then please let us know, our contact details are on the footer of every webpage at adeptenglish.com.
So this lesson emerged from an everyday modern scenario in the UK, where I needed to check something with my bank and to do this I needed to use an app on my mobile phone, and the mobile battery was flat. In just one English sentence, I used the same word with three different meanings.
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Hi and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. Do you know – this is our 400th podcast?!
How about we work on some vocabulary today? One of the things which is difficult in English is that we have a lot of words, but also that some words have more than one meaning. And some words have a lot of different meanings. If you look them up in the dictionary, they may have 4 or 5 different meanings in different contexts.
So today how about we look at a verb which can be used in different ways. Again it’s the ‘Helping Hand of Adept English’ – or our Rule Six. Trying to help you out with understanding, giving you shortcuts or explaining things in the English language which are confusing.
So here goes. What do you understand by the verb ‘to charge’? What’s its meaning?
Well, first of all a very common use of this verb, the verb ‘to charge’, C-H-A-R-G-E – if your phone or your tablet runs out of electricity – we would say either ‘Oh, the battery is flat’ or ‘Oh, it’s run out of charge. I need to charge my phone’, ‘I need to charge my tablet’. And then we would go and plug the device in, into the electricity supply, in the wall. And the battery then would charge up and the device would be ready to use again.
So vocabulary here – ‘to charge’ in this context means to fill it up with electricity and then you can use it again – without any wires, while you’re mobile, while you’re moving around. And batteries, B-A-T-T-E-R-I-E-S – or one single battery, B-A-T-T-E-R-Y – that’s the part of your phone or your tablet which holds the electricity. We might talk about ‘battery life’ – how long does your phone battery last, once you’ve charged it? Well, with mine – perhaps a day?!
OK, so that’s one use of this verb. Another very common use of ‘to charge’ – if you ‘charge someone’ that means that you expect them to pay you money, presumably because you’ve supplied them with goods or you’ve performed a service for them. So you might come across the phrase ‘free of charge’ – that means it’s free, you don’t have to pay.
So ‘to charge’ or ‘a charge’ – the first is a verb, the second is a noun - meaning a fee, a cost, a price. It means if there’s a charge, you have to pay money. You might ask your hairdresser ‘How much do you charge for a cut and blow dry?’ or ‘Do you charge extra for a beard trim or to trim my eyebrows?!’ We’re all in need of a trim at the moment, perhaps! Or ‘You can visit the art gallery free of charge’ maybe.
OK, so you can ‘charge your phone battery’ and you can ‘charge a fee’ – you can request that someone pays you. What other meanings does ‘to charge’ have?
Another way in which this verb is used – you can say ‘Charge it to my account’. So if you are a regular user of a service, a regular customer it might be at the florist say, the flower shop or when you’re staying in a hotel. You might have a running account, A-C-C-O-U-N-T with them.
An ‘account’ means that they don’t charge you separately for each service as you take it. Instead an account is a record of all that you’ve had, and then you pay them on a regular basis. Another word we use for an ‘account’, especially one behind a bar like this – we might say ‘a tab’, T-A-B. ‘Put it on my tab’. So if you say ‘Charge it to my account’ – it means just put this charge onto the record that you hold for me – and I will pay later, I will pay you in due course.
In a hotel, if you’re in the restaurant or the bar, enjoying a meal…. (that feels like fantasy right now, doesn’t it?!) If you’re in a bar or a restaurant, you might enjoy your meal – and then the waiter may say ‘Which room number shall I charge this to?’ - meaning at the end of your stay, they’ll total up the whole bill, including the meal and it’s associated with your room number. And you’ll pay it when you pay the bill for your room.
So perhaps slightly confusing here. In one sense, if you ‘charge’ something like a phone battery, you’re filling it up, you’re filling it with electricity. And yet if I say ‘Charge my account’ – or ‘Charge it to my credit card’ – that’s going to be what we call ‘a debit’, you’re ‘taking away’ money. But often with the word charge, we’re talking about a fee, a payment, a financial transaction. So one person makes payment, another person receives payment – and we’d say that the one who is making payment is ‘being charged’. And the person who receives payment ‘is charging’.
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Another use of the verb ‘to charge’ – if you’re in trouble with the police, and they arrest you – ‘to arrest’, A-R-R-E-S-T, means that the police force you to go with them, probably to the police station to be questioned. Then if they think that there is enough evidence that you’ve done something wrong, they may formally ‘charge’ you with an offence, with a wrong-doing.
So again this verb ‘to charge’, both a verb and a noun here, means that the police think you’ve done something wrong. So if you’re facing a ‘burglary charge’, that means the police think you entered someone’s house and stole their things – that’s burglary, B-U-R-G-L-A-R-Y. Or you could be charged with ‘driving without due care and attention’ – so that’s when you’re suspected of causing an accident by driving badly.
We talk about someone ‘facing charges’ – and ‘going to court on a charge of arson’ for example. Arson, A-R-S-O-N, that’s a really serious charge – that’s when someone has purposefully set fire to something and destroyed it!
A further meaning of this verb ‘to charge’? It means ‘to run quickly towards something’. So we would talk about a bull or a horse ‘charging’ – meaning that it was running, quickly, with force towards something or someone. Bulls charge people purposefully sometimes – very scary!
I remember a bull charging once when I was visiting the Lake District in the north of England. And the farmer trying to catch the bull, that had got out onto the road! Not very successfully either. A ‘charge’ might be used in a military context, in a battle. Especially a historic battle, where there may be ‘a charge’, when one army runs towards another army to attack it.
A photograph of a beautiful horse and young lady in red. As we talk about the common English word charge and its many meanings.
‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ – this happened during the Crimean War in Russia at Balaklava, in 1854. That’s now in Ukraine. The story of the Light Brigade being sent to the wrong battle and suffering heavy loss of life – was immortalized in a poem called ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which is why the title ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ sticks in people’s minds, even if they don’t know the poem or the story behind it.
So a bull or a horse, or an army regiment might ‘charge’. We also might talk about ourselves, more figuratively, ‘charging around’. You might say ‘I don’t like my boss, he’s always ‘charging around’, telling everyone what to do’. Or you might say ‘I’ve been charging around all morning, trying to get the food shopping done, the car sorted and my cat to the vet’.
So if you have a lot of jobs to do, a lot of tasks which demand that you go to lots of different places – you might say ‘I’ve been charging around’. It means energetically moving with purpose and direction.
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And just a final point about this word’s origins – its etymology. The ‘etymology’ of a word, E-T-Y-M-O-L-O-G-Y is where it comes from, its origins. And ‘charge’ comes from the Latin ‘carrus’, C-A-R-R-U-S meaning ‘a load’ – as in the English word ‘carriage’ or ‘ to carry’. So a ‘load’ is something heavy that needs carrying. So ‘to charge’ means to load something up – or to fill something.
I just thought I’d add that in, in case it helps you get your head around the different meanings. It makes more sense when you know the origin of the word. That’s probably enough to take on board for now. It covers the main meanings of the verb ‘to charge’. Don’t forget to listen to the podcast several times, so that the words stick in your mind – and the different meanings!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.