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What 'Strikes a Chord' with You?

Michelle Rasul plays piano in the lobby of her apartment building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Foto: AP/Kamran Jebreili)
What 'Strikes a Chord' with You?
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

On this program, we explore words and expressions in the English language. We give examples that show how to use them. And sometimes we explain where they come from.

Today, our expression comes from music. A chord is three or more musical notes sounded at the same time. The word “strike” means to hit. But when we play a note on a musical instrument, we can also say we struck a note.

A boy plays strikes a chord on his keyboard inside his apartment during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo April 18, 2020. (REUTERS PHOTO/Kenny Katombe)
A boy plays strikes a chord on his keyboard inside his apartment during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo April 18, 2020. (REUTERS PHOTO/Kenny Katombe)

So, our expression for today is to strike a chord.

In its most general definition, to strike a chord means something relates to you somehow. It resonates with you. If something strikes a chord with you, it is familiar to you in some way, for better or for worse.

Something can strike a positive chord. It is familiar to you in a good way. It creates good feelings or thoughts. For example, a love song struck a deep chord with James. It is the song he sang to his wife at their wedding. Or maybe the song was playing on the radio when she left him. In that case, the song would strike a negative chord with James.

As you can see from those examples, you can add other words to describe what type of chord is being struck – a deep chord, a negative chord.

Here are some other examples.

A teacher’s advice can strike a responsive chord with students. And a politician’s speech can strike a sympathetic chord with voters. Those two words – sympathetic and responsive – are commonly used with this expression.

You might hear people say something “struck a familiar chord.” But to me, this sounds a bit unnecessary. If something strikes a chord, it means it is familiar in some way. So, we don’t need to add the word “familiar” to the expression. But I have heard it used that way before. Maybe it means something is really familiar.

Sometimes we use to strike a chord this way: If something creates strong feelings or thoughts, it strikes a chord. And that “something” could be unfamiliar to the person.

Here is another situation where we use this expression: If something strikes a chord with you, you approve of it. You agree with it. For example, during the election the politician’s position on the economy and jobs must have struck a chord with voters because she won easily.

Let’s talk for a minute about sentence structure.

If you look back at our examples, most if not all of them use the word “with" – with James, with students, with voters. But you can use this expression without the word “with.” In this way, “strike a chord” means it caused a strong emotional reaction to something. For example, that movie must have really struck a chord. Everyone came out of the theater crying.

Hopefully learning English continues to strike a chord with all of you … a positive one!

And that’s the end of this Words and Their Stories. Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


Words in This Story

resonate – v. to have particular meaning or importance for someone : to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emotional way

positive – adj. good or useful

negative – adj. a part of something which is harmful or bad

responsive – v. reacting in a desired or positive way : quick to react or respond

sympathetic – adj. having or showing support for or approval of something