English Phrases With Just A Few Bars In Them Ep 347

A photograph of seven ballerinas at ballet bar. Used to help explain the many uses of the English word bar.

📝 Author: Hilary

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💬 1942 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 10 min

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English Phrases

Keeping up with English phrases can be difficult. Not only do English words fall in and out of everyday use. The English language often uses the same word, but with a different meaning. Lucky for you Adept English focuses on useful everyday English, so we can help you keep up.

In today’s lesson we will pick a tiny three letter word and show you just how much meaning the English language can apply to that word. You would think two sentences and that’s it for such an insignificant word, and yet today’s article is nearly 2,000 words long.

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With 75 of the latest lessons always available for download, if you don’t like today’s lesson, you can always find one that works for you.

Most Unusual Words:


Most common 4 word phrases:

To Learn A Language2
Called To The Bar2
Of The Word Bar2

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Transcript: English Phrases With Just A Few Bars In Them

Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. Our podcasts are here to help you improve your English. They give you weekly English listening practice – so that even if you don’t live in an English speaking country, you can listen to authentic spoken English to help you learn.

Listening is the best way to learn a language – we call it our ‘Listen & Learn’ method. It’s a different approach from what most English language courses teach – but if you ask anyone who speaks several languages, they’ll support our way of teaching.

If you want to know more about this method of learning a language, which is so much better than traditional classroom teaching, then sign up for the free course from Adept English. It’s called The Seven Rules of Adept English and it will explain how to learn a language in a way that helps you actually become fluent, actually be able to use the language rather than language learning remaining an academic exercise.

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English vocabulary is a challenge

Vocabulary in English is one of the challenges. As I’ve said before, English has one of the highest numbers of words of any language. It’s hard to arrive at a precise number of words – it changes all the time, with new words being adopted and old words falling out of use – and it’s hard to agree on rules to count the words.

Are ‘spend’, ‘spends’ and ‘spending’ three different words – or all part of the same word? Certainly there are more different words in English than in most languages. And part of this is in how we use our words. So sometimes, what’s actually difficult as well - in English we use one word to have a lot of different meanings. So let’s take a really common word like that today.


A little word like ‘bar’?

What about the word bar, B-A-R? Sounds a simple little word, doesn’t it?

Bar, as in bar, pub and restaurant

You probably know it well, in the context of going out for a drink – you go to a bar or a restaurant. You can have wine bars, cocktail bars, juice bars or coffee bars. So bars exist all around the world. And even if you go with the very British word ‘pub’, P-U-B., inside every pub, there is a bar.

So within a pub, the ‘bar’ is the counter, the place where you go and stand and order your drink – and the bartender, that’s the person behind the bar will serve your drink, put it onto the bar. You can also have bar snacks and bar meals too.

Bars of chocolate, soap and gold

So far so good. But other meanings of the word bar? What about a ‘bar of chocolate’? Well, that’s the term we use to mean a block of something like chocolate. So this meaning of ‘bar’ is more about the shape – a bar is a block, a cube or a cuboid if you like. We’d also talk about ‘bars of gold’ to mean gold ingots or a ‘bar of soap’ too!

Bars to break in with and bars to keep you inside

And a ‘bar’ also means something longer and thinner. So if you were in prison, you’d be ‘behind bars’. Or for animals, their cages have bars – here it means the strip of metal used to prevent a person or an animal escaping. Prisons have bars on their windows for instance. A similar type of long, thin piece of metal is used say on a fire door. If there’s a fire in a building and you need to leave through a special fire exit – you’ll probably push a bar to open the door. And a metal bar could also be used as a weapon, or to prise open a window!

’To bar’ as a verb

The word ‘bar’ is mainly used as a noun. But there’s also a verb in English ‘to bar’. If you ‘bar’ someone, it means that you stop them coming in, you prevent them from entering. So in a pub or a bar, customers who’ve been troublesome before, or who’re too drunk may be ‘barred’, B-A-R-R-E-D. Or in a shop, you might bar people who’ve stolen from the shop.

We may have our private opinions but why should they be a bar to the meeting of hearts?
⭐ Mahatma Gandhi

But it’s not just used in this context. You might talk about it in a more idiomatic way – you might say there’s a ‘bar to entry’ for certain types of job – you might need certain qualifications, or experience, and without these you face a bar, something that you can’t move past – effectively ‘you’ve been barred’.

’Raising the bar’, ‘setting a high bar’ and a ‘low bar to entry

Another way in which we use ‘bar’ is as a noun again, and it means as ‘a standard’, ‘a measure of expectation’. So you might say that a certain class of students in a college ‘set a high bar’ when they got their exam results. So ‘a high bar’ means that standards, expectations are high or a ‘low bar’ means that standards aren’t that high – it’s easier.

It’s easier to get in or it’s easier to pass, or easier to gain access. So we talk about ‘setting the bar’ – so we might ‘set the bar low’, or ‘set the bar high’. Think of someone doing a high jump or a pole vault at the Olympic games. That picture should give you an idea of ‘setting the bar’. It means idiomatically setting a standard.

’All bar none’

Bar can also be used as a preposition. Here you might say ‘Our restaurant is the best in the town, bar none’. What ‘bar none’ means there is that our restaurant is the best, without exception, no others are better. And if you felt that you had the 2nd best restaurant in the town, you might say ‘Our restaurant is the best in the town, bar the Italian restaurant down the road’. So as a preposition, ‘bar’ means the same as ‘excepting’ or ‘except for’.

Bars of music

Another use of the word ‘bar’. In music, if you’re familiar with how to write music down, it’s separated into bars. So the horizontal lines – 5 of them – upon which the musical notes sit is called a ‘stave’, S-T-A-V-E. And the staves also have vertical lines, every few notes – and these vertical lines separate the music into ‘bars’. So you might hear someone say ‘Play a few bars….’ meaning a few bars of music, the start of a tune. A waltz for example has three beats to a bar, so is in 3:4 time, whereas most music is in 4:4 time – that means four beats to a bar.


A photograph of sheet music. Used to help explain English phrase musical bars.

©️ Adept English 2020

Gymnastics bars and ballet barres

If you’re a ballet dancer or a gymnast then the bar has a special meaning. Any ballet studio as well as mirrors, has a metal barre running round the edge of the room and this is what ballet dancers use to practice with. However, like much in ballet, this kind of bar is spelt the French way, B-A-R-R-E.

Gymnasts also have to master the bars, still spelt B-A-R-S. Usually it means two bars – one higher than the other – and gymnasts swing and do really clever things on the bars. Again, think of the Olympics – and how you see gymnasts on the bars there.

Being called to the bar and the difference between a barrister and a barista!

Last of all, if you train in Law, L-A-W in the UK, you become a ‘lawyer’, L-A-W-Y-E-R, meaning someone who is professionally qualified to practice law, to charge customers for legal advice, advice on the law. In the US, the word ‘attorney’ is similar, A-T-T-O-R-N-E-Y. In the UK, if you do most of your work as a lawyer in an office, you’re generally called a ‘solicitor’, S-O-L-I-C-I-T-O-R.

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But if you do further exams and training and your specialism becomes representing clients in a court of law, then you’re a ‘barrister’, B-A-R-R-I-S-T-E-R. That’s where you wear the wig - that’s the false hair and the gown – and you represent your client in court. When you qualify – we say someone was ‘called to the bar’. That means they became a barrister. Note this is different from barista, which is BARISTA – ‘cause that’s someone who makes your coffee!


So bar has lots of different meanings – there’s at least nine in this podcast. See if you can remember all nine meanings to test yourself!

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.




The voice of Adeptenglish, loves English and wants to help people who want to speak English fluently.
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