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to play it by ear


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Choose the correct definition a, b or c.

a) to flatter someone

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b) to deal with a situation as it happens

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to play it by ear’ means to decide how to deal with a situation as it develops rather than planning on how you are going to react.

French translation

improviser, voir le moment venu, voir en allant

How NOT to translate : *jouer à l’oreille

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Examples in context

‘When in doubt, play it by ear.

Conflicts between employer and employee are routine. I don’t mean the open confrontations that result in double-quick firing and become the stuff of legends. Rather, I refer to the subterranean stuff that is carried out under the radar. The stiff hellos and forced smiles. The sudden refusal to ask out for lunch. The absence of the hand on the shoulder. And so on.

The kind I face at my workplace relates to the quantum of responsibilities. As a CAT (Common Admission Test) trainer, there are plenty of things that I do. Primarily, I teach English.’

Business Standard, 13th February 2015

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’Justin Forsett ’open’ to leaving Ravens, looking for a commitment.

One of the biggest surprises in the 2014 NFL season was the emergence of running back Justin Forsett, a journeyman that hadn’t had a previous starting opportunity.

"Yeah, definitely, I want to return back in Baltimore and play in this city but I’m really looking for a commitment," Forsett said. "Throughout my whole career, bouncing back and forth — I want a stable place, stable team. Wherever that comes, you know, I’m open for it. So, I’m just playing it by ear right now and of course, I’ll listen to any offers out there right now.’

CBS Sports, 12th February 2015

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Everyday usage

Let’s see if Mary comes to work today, if she does, we will just have to play it by ear.

Bob : “Hey Tom, let’s play tennis tomorrow at 3 pm.” Tom : “I think it might rain tomorrow. Let’s just play it by ear.

c) to keep repeating things

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