Tuesday, March 31, 2015


An alley in the Beacon Hill area of Boston, Masachusetts

You might say, "There's a garbage can up my alley," or "There's a bunch of trash up my alley." Alleys or alleyways are tiny, narrow paths or passages between buildings. They're usually dark and dirty although once in a while you'll run into a clean one like this alley in the historic Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • ONCE IN A WHILE - sometimes
  • RUN INTO - find; meet; come across

The idiomatic expression "UP YOUR ALLEY," however, has nothing to do with a physical alleyway; it has more to do with someone's interest or expertise. For example, if you're a web designer, then designing web pages is UP YOUR ALLEY. If you're a car mechanic, fixing cars is UP YOUR ALLEY. If you're studying film, then perhaps acting or directing or film editing is UP YOUR ALLEY. You get the picture.
  • YOU GET THE PICTURE - You get the idea; you understand

We usually use this idiom when we want to say that we know a subject very well, so we can offer some advice or talk about it at length. When you say that something is UP YOUR ALLEY, people will expect you to be able to explain the topic very well. You can also talk about your friend's or a family member's interest or expertise. For example, you can say, "If you want to sell old clothes, you should talk to Tabitha. That's UP HER ALLEY; she makes extra cash all the time getting rid of old outfits in her closet."
  • AT LENGTH - completely; in great detail
  • GET RID OF - eliminate
  • OUTFIT - piece of clothing; dress

So if you're studying to be a chef and a friend is trying to figure out what to serve at a dinner party, you can say,  "Hey, I can help you decide. Food and cooking are UP MY ALLEY." Similarly, if a friend needs help with his English homework, say the present perfect or the third conditional is too difficult for him, you can say, "I can help you with that! English grammar is totally UP MY ALLEY."
  • FIGURE OUT - find a way; think of an answer
  • SAY - for example

So what's UP YOUR ALLEY? Let us know. You can comment below.  You can also tell us on Facebook or on Twitter!

Keep practicing!

-- Joe Yu, ESL instructor

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