Last updated at 15:04 BST, Tuesday, 01 May 2012

No strings attached

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Helen brings a present for Chris but she places certain conditions on it. Which expression does she need to use? Find out more in this week's The English We Speak.

A large dog puppet walking through Liverpool

The script for this programme

Chris: Hi Helen. Wow, what's that?

Helen: This is a present for you, Chris.

Chris: A present for me? Oh, that's very kind of you!

Helen: Here you go.

Chris: A new dictionary - how nice! That's such a lovely present, and it's not even my birthday. But hang on, why have you stuck all these pieces of string onto the book?

Helen: There are strings to your present.

Chris: I see. Do you mean there are certain conditions that come with this present?

Helen: Yes, strings to your present!

Chris: Ahh, you mean there are strings attached.

Helen: I see – so it's an expression in English?

Chris: That's right. Having strings attached doesn't actually mean you need to stick pieces of string on the book. You can just tell me what the conditions are.

Helen: Oh, OK. Well, the conditions are that I can borrow your dictionary whenever I need to use it.

Chris: That's absolutely fine. You can borrow it anytime.

Helen: Great! Do you have any headphones I can use too? I want to listen to my mp3 player.

Chris: Yes, here you go.

Helen: Are there any strings attached?

Chris: No, you can use the headphones for as long as you like - no strings attached.

Helen: Wonderful, thanks very much.

Chris: Let's take a listen to some examples of how strings attached or no strings attached can be used:

  • Make sure you read all of the contract before you sign it, there could be strings attached.
  • We're giving away our brand new toy to the first fifty customers who visit our shop - no strings attached.

Helen: So it can be a warning about whether there are restrictions to something or not.

Chris: That's right. When something has strings attached, it often means there are hidden commitments and you should find out what they are.

Helen: That's good to know. Is it just used when talking about money?

Chris: It can often be used when talking about financial agreements or negotiations, but it can also be based on personal relationships too, like when you gave me the present. Here's another example:

A: My brother said I could use his car this weekend, no strings attached.
B: Really? That's a nice thing to do.
A: Well, he does owe me a favour after I washed the car last week.

Chris: So Helen, now that you've finished with your mp3 player, can I listen to it?

Helen: You can, but there are strings attached.

Chris: Oh, OK. What are they?

Helen: My mp3 player has only got classical music on it!

Chris: Oh no, I hate classical music!

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