Learn English Phrases: It can’t hurt

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Hi students, it’s Shayna, your teacher from EspressoEnglish.net. In today’s lesson I want to teach you about a phrase that one of my students asked me about. That phrase is, “It can’t hurt.” This is an interesting expression.

When we’re talking about “it can’t hurt,” we are not really referring to physical pain. Normally when we use the word hurt, we’re saying, “Oh my arm hurts.” Or, “My leg hurts.” We’re talking about a physical pain, although hurt can also refer to emotional pain.

But in this phrase, “it can’t hurt,” we’re expressing something different. It can’t hurt is used when your friend or whoever you’re talking to is a little bit nervous or scared to do something. Then you want to show your friend that there won’t be any negative consequences to doing this thing, so they just need to do it.

For example, let’s say you have a friend who wants to join a singing group, but in order to join this group she needs to audition. That means she needs to do a demonstration of her singing abilities in order to see if the group will accept her or not. She’s debating on whether or not to do this audition. You can tell her, “It can’t hurt to try.” Meaning you should try because there will be no negative consequences, it can’t hurt to try.

A very similar phrase is, “There’s no harm in trying.” The word harm refers to damage, injury, bad things happening. Another way to express this is, “There’s no harm in trying.” You’re trying to convince the other person to do that thing that they’re nervous about or that they’re scared to do, by telling them that there will be no negative consequences if they just do it.

It can’t hurt to try, we use the to form, it can’t hurt to try. In the other phrase, there’s no harm in trying, we use the -ing form, there’s no harm in trying. We can actually put other verbs in there too.

For example, if your classmate wants to ask the teacher for an extension on a project, he needs more time to finish it, but he’s not sure if the teacher will say yes or no. You could tell him, “Well, there’s no harm in asking.” In other words, he should ask because the teacher might say yes, the teacher might say no, but there’s no negative consequences just for asking, there’s no harm in asking.

A third phrase that you can use in these types of situations is, “What have you got to lose?” This is asking the person even more directly, what would be the negative consequence to you if you try this or if you do this? In both situations, the girl who wants to audition for the singing group and the guy who is thinking about asking for an extension, you could ask both of them, “Well, what have you got to lose?” Because it means, again, that there will probably be no major negative consequences from this, so they should think about that fact and actually do what they are thinking of doing.

When we say this in fast spoken English, it sounds like Whatta you got to lose? or What’ve you got to lose? That word, have, actually gets reduced and shortened when we say it fast.

I hope this lesson helped you understand these three phrases and when to use them. You might be thinking about joining my Everyday English Speaking course, which focuses on what to say in different situations that you might encounter in daily life, traveling, socializing, and so on.

In order to help you make your decision, I’ve made some free sample lessons available. You can take those by clicking on the link in this video or in the video description. There’s no harm in trying, what have you got to lose? Go ahead and take the free sample lessons. Then if you like them, you can join the full Everyday English Speaking course.

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