WHAT IF…? The answer to all your WHAT IF questions.


The most popular question when using English First Aid is: WHAT IF…?  This post has the answers to all your what if questions.

What if there are multiple definitions for a word?

Many words have more than one definition.  Sometimes the definitions are similar and sometimes they are very different.  You need to match the right definition with the context of the sentence from you input source.

Follow these steps to choose the right definition.

  1. Read the sentence. What is the sentence about?
  2. Look at the definitions in your dictionary,
  3. Look for other words in the sentence that can help you guess which definition is right.
  4. Use the sentence that comes before and after your sentence to give you more clues about what your word means.
  5. Do a google search for the words/expressions you want to learn.  Read the word/expression in other examples you find in your dictionary or on the internet.
  6. Choose the right definition

You should find the right definition BEFORE you get to step 6.  If not, maybe you are not ready to learn the word. That’s ok. Skip the sentence and find and easier one.

What if there is more than one unknown word in the sentence?

You will often read sentences that have more than one word/expression that you do not understand.  You can have more than one definition on your card or you can create a Card Combo to split the information into smaller pieces.

What if there is an idiom?

What’s an Idiom?

n. c. a group of words that has a special meaning that is different from the ordinary meaning of each separate word. For example, ‘under the weather’ is an idiom meaning ‘ill’.

-Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

Sometimes sentences have idioms. It can be difficult to identify idioms. How do you know when you have found one? When you find an idiom, you will often understand all the words in the sentence but can’t understand the meaning of the sentence.

What do I do?

Search for the group of words that has special meaning. Look for the part of the sentence that doesn’t make sense at all. Copy that group of words and paste/type them into your dictionary to search

Still can’t find it…

Sometimes it’s better to search an idiom dictionary. Try an idiom dictionary.  You can also find idioms by doing a google search.

Still can’t find it…

Go back to your sentence.  Maybe you chose the wrong group of words.  Try adding another word, taking a word out, or picking a different group of words.  Google is very good at figuring out idioms when you don’t have the exact words.  The idiom may not appear the same in a dictionary as it does in your sentence.


That’s ok!  You can’t figure it out right now.  You can delete the card, or tag it to save for later.

Extra Tips

Create and choose cards according to your English level.  Always ask yourself

  • What am I trying to learn?
  • What is difficult for me to remember? What surprises me about the sentence?
  • How can I remember this information better?

These questions will help you make the right decisions. Anki can teach you almost any English, but you have to tell it what and how to teach you.

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