Executive English is Impossible

English is Impossible! [One Word Has 645 Meanings]

English is Impossible

You begin to realize that English is impossible when one simple three-letter word has 645 different meanings!

Learning English is hard. Trying to use English as a business executive running your company is more difficult.

“English is impossible.”

These words are said often during my coaching sessions. Really. Not only by my clients, but also by myself.

Helping highly intelligent and successful business founders, CEOs and executives is invigorating. 

We discuss business at a high level and we dive deep into advanced communication skills, while we incorporate executive English vocabulary into our discussions.

📌   The key to communicating confidently in another language is to use new words and phrases in the same context that they are used by someone in their normal daily life.

In this case, effective business English words and phrases need to be used naturally by these business executives as they lead their companies.  In particular, this articles details How to Confidently Speak English as a CEO in 4 Steps.

As we are discussing business situations that a leader experiences every day, I try to introduce a custom list of words that I’ve developed over the years into their natural vocabulary.  Words that a native English business executive would naturally use.

We spend a lot of time discussing vocabulary and how they can use these words to communicate as a great leader.

Multiple Meanings
During these discussions, we consistently discuss how so many different words in English have multiple meanings. 

The difference between everyday meanings of words in English and the business use of words in English is eye-opening.

And it is during these discussions that everyone realizes how many words have multiple meanings. 

📌   After all, studies have shown that 64% of all English words have multiple meanings. I would never want to learn English with this impossible framework.

But, 64% of words with multiple meanings is a drop in the bucket. As illustrated below, you can run across hundreds of meanings from some words.

Let’s look at an example:


A verb that means to go at a pace faster than a walk.

  • (example sentence) The dog ran down the street.

Simple, right?

Everyone knows the word “run.”

Or do they???

Now, let’s look at a common business use of “run.” 

A verb that means to operate, direct, oversee, manage a business, or a company.

  • (example sentence) A CEO strives to profitably run the company.

Ok, most everyone knows and understands this common business meaning. Let’s run with this and see where it goes.

As a business executive, you’ll also want to be comfortable using this next phrase

In the Long Run

A phrase meaning over time

  • (example sentence) Investing available capital in this project will pay off in the long run.

The above examples provide useful ways to use the word run. You are probably familiar with each of them.

Now let’s look at a longer list of examples and notice how each of these examples can be significantly helpful to business executives.

As you run through this list, you’ll see references to some things called idioms and phrasal verbs.

To clarify, an idiom is a phrase that can’t be understood by its separate words. Idioms can be commonly found in most languages. Most people feel that learning idioms can give you the runaround.

Phrasal verbs are very commonly used in English and they include a verb and some additional words. This combination of words are not logical to understand. Here’s an article on How to Use Phrasal Verbs in Business English.

Run Something By

Phrasal verb meaning to tell someone about something or mention it, to see if they think it is a good idea, or can understand it.

  • After you receive the proposal, please run it by me, I’d like to take a look at it.

Get Off to a Running Start

Phrasal verb that means to have a positive or successful start to something.

  • I hope our new marketing campaign will get off to a running start when it begins next month.

Dry Run

A phrase that means when you practice something in preparation for the actual event.

  • Let’s schedule a dry run of the presentation for tomorrow morning at 10:00am. 

Run the Show

A phrase that means someone is in control of something

  • I’d like you to meet John, he runs the show here at our manufacturing facility.

Run a Tight Ship

An idiom that means to keep firm control of the way your business or organization is run, so that it is well organized and efficient

  • Our company CEO is highly respected because of her reputation of running a tight ship.

Run the Risk

A phrasal verb that means to do something that may result in loss or failure.

  • I’m concerned that if we implement this new strategy, we’ll run the risk of increasing our expenses significantly next quarter.

In the Running

An idiom that means someone or something has a good chance to win something or obtain something.

  • Our company is still in the running to get the new contract from one of the biggest firms in our industry.

Out of the Running

An idiom that means someone is no longer a candidate for a position or contest

  • She is officially out of the running to be named the new company president.

Run Around in Circles

An idiom that means to keep doing or talking about the same thing without achieving anything

  • We’ve been running around in circles trying to get the information we need, but no one will tell us anything.

Run into a Brick Wall

An idiom meaning to encounter a barrier that cannot be overcome in one’s efforts by something

  • We’ve tried for the past month to enter this new market, but it seems we’ve run into a brick wall

Take the Ball and Run With it

An idiom that means to further develop or expand upon an idea or plan to its fullest potential.

  • After someone on our team introduced the possibility of a new product, our operations team took the ball and ran with it.

Run Amok

Another idiom that is used to describe when someone, or something, is behaving without control in a wild or dangerous manner

  • The IT department lacked strong leadership last year and the staff ran amok.

Each and every one of these different phrases of the word “run” can be used by the leaders of any company during normal business conversation. It is important to realize that these phrases are all common, useful and have significantly different meanings.

A simple three-letter word and we’ve only looked at 15 different meanings of it. 

After all, how can anyone remember all of these different meanings? 

More importantly, how can anyone remember to USE all of these phrases when speaking?

“English is impossible.”

Well, we’ve only scratched the surface here when it comes to the different meanings of the word “run.”

Every so many years, the team at the Oxford Dictionary updates its dictionary and the different meanings of words that are used.

According to Oxford, there are 645 different meanings of the word run.

Yes, with only three letters, it has 645 different meanings!!

“English is impossible.”

Again, we’ve only run into the tip of the iceberg here. 

Below you’ll find a list of the top 10 words that have the most meanings. 

What is truly astonishing, is this list of 10 seemingly simple words from the English language have a combined total of 3,479 meanings.

  • Run: 645 definitions. 
  • Set: 430 definitions.
  • Go: 368 definitions. 
  • Take: 343 definitions.
  • Stand: 334 definitions
  • Get: 289 definitions
  • Turn: 288 definitions
  • Put: 268 definitions
  • Strike: 264 definitions
  • Fall: 250 definitions

📌   3,479 definitions for 10 words!!!

And look at these words. In truth, all of them are normal, everyday words that all of us use multiple times a day. And now we learn that these 10 simple words have an average of 349 definitions.

“English is impossible.”

To conclude, let’s run with one of this author’s favorite uses of the word “run.” Like all the other examples listed above, this phrase is often used (often with humor) by any business executive.

Running Around Like a Chicken With Its Head Cut Off

An idiom that describes when someone is moving around very quickly because they are trying to do many things in a short period of time or because they are very nervous and upset

  • Before the big presentation, the Vice-President of Marketing was running around like a chicken with her head cut off and we had to get her to calm down and focus.

Go ahead and run with each of these great phrases. And then if you are brave, dig into the 645 meanings, as you can be sure they will undoubtedly, give you a run for your money.

“English is impossible.”

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