Expression: To Tinker With Something

In this Expression episode of Aussie English I teach you guys how to use the expression TO TINKER WITH something like a native!

Expression: To Tinker With Something

G’day guys. How’re you going? Welcome to this expression episode. Today I’m going to do the expression for you TO TINKER AWAY or just TO TINKER. And I mentioned this phrase in a recent episode that I uploaded for you guys, and Estefania from Spain asked me if I could do an episode on TO TINKER AWAY or just TO TINKER WITH, TO TINKER.

So, here we are. If you guys have any expressions, any sayings, any idioms, any grammatical issues, pronunciation issues, any kind of English issue that you would like me to do an episode on in the future make sure you send me a message or comment below, because I’m going to try and turn this around and focus in on you guys, and try and do as much as I can that you guys ask for specifically. So, I’m going to put you guys first from now on.

Anyway, before we get started I’ve got some good news. I bought some gadgets recently. Some gadgets, and GADGETS are like little devices, little computer technology, machinery, gadgets, gadgets. I’ve got here a lapel mic that I can plug into my phone and put here to talk (into). And I also have a directional microphone that I bought that I just plug in to the side of my phone. And so, I thought I would start this episode obviously just using my phone without any microphone plugged in. It’s just using the normal phone microphone. And, I thought I’ll plug this in while we are recording so that you can see the difference. So, let me just see here. There, we’re plugged in. And hopefully, I’ll have to check after I’ve recorded this, hopefully the sound is better.

Anyway, without any further ado, let’s dive right into the episode guys. So, TO TINKER AWAY, TO TINKER AWAY, or just TO TINKER. TO TINKER WITH SOMETHING, TO TINKER AWAY AT SOMETHING, you can say TO TINKER AWAY AT an activity, so something you’re doing. If you’re TINKERING AWAY you could be repairing something, playing with something. I’ll define it in a sec, but yeah, TO TINKER AWAY WITH an activity or AT an activity, or TO TINKER WITH something.

So, the definition of TO TINKER is to busy oneself, to occupy oneself, to be busy with something an to be making subtle changes, to be making adjustments, so to adjust something, to attempt to repair something. But ultimately, you’re doing this without any real skill in that field, in that area. So, you don’t know how to repair these things but you’re trying to anyway, you’re TINKERING with the device, with whatever it is that you’re trying to repair. And you could also say that it’s kind of in a clumsy unskillful way with no real results.

And so, you can also use TINKER in the form of a noun. So, not only can you use it as a verb, TO TINKER WITH something or TO TINKER AWAY at something but you can also have A TINKER WITH something. And that means to fiddle with something, to try and adjust it. A TINKER is like an adjustment, a fiddle, a play, you’re… It’s that noun. It’s that idea of the action that you’re doing. So, if I go and HAVE A TINKER WITH my car, I’m going out to my car and I’m having a fiddle, I’m having a play, I’m adjusting things, I’m trying to repair it with no real result. Whereas, if I use it as a verb I can say that I am going TO TINKER WITH the car, or I’m going to the car and I’m TINKERING AWAY with trying to repair the car.

So, that’s TO TINKER, the verb and the noun. A bit of background, where did TO TINKER come from? TO TINKER apparently is… or A TINKERER back in the old days, I would never use this phrase anymore, but A TINKERER was someone who mended kettles and pots and pans. So, things that you cooked with. And this was back in the mid 1300s onwards. So, 1300s, 1400s, 1500s. Back when it was obviously incredibly important to be able to repair those kinds of objects that everyone used in their houses to cook with. And so, it was also a surname, I think TINKERE, I’m probably mispronouncing that, but it dates back to Middle English in the 1200s and onwards. And so, surnames in English quite often reveal to some extent what that original family did as a job. And so, if their surname was TINKER or TINKERE these are probably the people who first started to make themselves known for mending kettles, pots and pans, and that’s where the verb came from (TO) TINKER and the noun came from A TINKER.

So, let’s just get straight into some examples of how I would use this phrase, or how I would use this word, this noun. So, imagine that you’re grandfather is, like, really really intensely interested in clocks, old antique clocks. So, he collects, maybe they’re not always in mint condition, maybe they’re not always perfect, they don’t work very well, and he has no real training in how to repair these things, but all the same, he likes to play around with the clocks and the mechanisms in the clocks. He likes to fiddle with them. You could say, “He likes TO TINKER WITH his clocks. He likes TINKERING WITH his clocks. He likes to go and have A TINKER with his clocks on weekends.” You know, it’s his hobby, just to play with the clocks, to adjust them. Maybe some of them are broken and he tries to repair them. He likes TO TINKER WITH clocks.

Another example could be that you are a mechanic and you love building cars. So, you may not necessarily be a mechanic in a sense that it is your career, but say you’re just… It’s your hobby. You’ve always loved cars, you love building cars from scratch, you love making the engines and then finally getting the car on the road and going for a drive. It’s your passion. You’ve got a garage at home with all your tools on the walls, you know, you’ve got oil pans on the ground to catch the oil if it starts leaking from the cars. Any time that you go into the garage to build your car, to try and repair the cars, to fiddle with the engine, to make adjustments, any time you go in there and have a play, have a fiddle, you could say that you’re having A TINKER. So, there’s the noun, to have A TINKER. You’re TINKERING WITH the car, you’re having A TINKER WITH the car, the engine, parts of the car, whatever it is that you’re fiddling with. You could say you’re having A TINKER WITH it. Or you could use it as a verb and you could say “I am TINKERING WITH the car. I am TINKERING WITH the engine. I’m TINKERING WITH the parts. I’m having a play. I’m having a fiddle.”

The third example could be that say, you’re at home, you’re trying to cook one day and you got the dishes in the dishwasher running. They’re cleaning, the water’s going inside the dishwasher and all of a sudden you hear some clunking and then the dishwasher stops working. And your dad runs out and he’s like, “Ah! I got this. I’ll fix this. It’s fine, it’s fine!” He gets in behind the dishwasher, you know, (he) pulls it out. (He) tries to get in there and have a fiddle to see if he can fix the dishwasher and get it to keep working again obviously. Maybe he wants to do this because he wants to save money and not have to pay for a repairman to come out, because it’s expensive to pay a repairman to come out to fix the dishwasher. Maybe he’s afraid he’s going to be told, “You’re going to have to buy a new dishwasher. This one’s kaput, it’s broken.” And so, he gets in behind the dishwasher and he has A TINKER or he’s TINKERING AWAY behind the dishwasher. He’s trying to repair things, he’s trying to find the problem, he’s having a fiddle with the dishwasher, he’s playing around, he’s adjusting things, he’s hoping that he finds the fault or the problem but ultimately he has no skill when it comes to repairing dishwashers, and it’s a clumsy kind of effort to try and fix it with no real result. And so, that’s when you can say, “He’s TINKERING AWAY” as he’s doing it, “He’s TINKERING AWAY” or “He’s having A TINKER behind the dishwasher trying to fix it.” SO, that’s example number three, TO TINKER WITH the dishwasher or to have A TINKER WITH the dishwasher.

So, the fourth example that I’ve got here is, imagine that your government is trying to set up a really nice healthcare system. And so, it implements some kind of strategy initially to try and improve the health care system of the country, but it’s unsatisfied with the initial setup and it keeps making changes to how the healthcare system that they have implemented is setup. You know, how much things cost, how much funding it’s getting, how many people are hired and working in this area, whatever it is. If they keep making changes, in terms of this it’s not a machine, it’s not a device or a gadget, it’s a system, some kind of setup that is not necessarily a physical thing. If they keep making those adjustments, they keep playing around with how it’s setup, they keep fiddling with it, you could say, “They’re TINKERING WITH it.” So, they’re playing with it, they’re trying to fix it, they don’t really know what they’re doing ultimately, they’re just trying to make changes and then hope that things work better or that they repair, that they get better, that they work more efficiently. So, then you could say that the government is TINKERING WITH their healthcare system strategy. They’re having A TINKER with it, they’re playing with it, they’re not really sure what they’re doing, it’s a little unskillful, it’s a little clumsy. And so, they’re having A TINKER WITH it.

Alright. Those are all the examples. By now I’m sure you’re getting the idea. You probably understand how to use the verbs TO TINKER, TO TINKER WITH something, and TO TINKER AWAY AT something. I haven’t looked up the specific reason that English speakers use AWAY. And so, at the moment when I try and explain this it’s just off the top of my head, I’m just thinking of it as I make this video. But I think whenever you do something and then have a AWAY after the verb, so if you’re WORKING AWAY, if you’re RUNNING AWAY, not in the sense of escaping but you’re running a lot, it’s that idea of that you’re in the process of doing it. So, if you’re TINKERING AWAY WITH something it means that when someone says you’re TINKERING AWAY WITH it, you’re in the process of doing it right then and there. So, when someone’s saying that you’re literally doing it, you’re in the process of TINKERING AWAY. So, it means you’re TINKERING AWAY. So, what else is another example? I’m WORKING AWAY AT my podcast at the moment. I’m WORKING AWAY, I’m TALKING AWAY, ‘cause I’m currently talking. If I’m TINKERING AWAY, if I was fiddling with the camera and trying to do stuff right now in the video you could say I was TINKERING AWAY WITH the camera, WITH the microphone. So, that’s that sort of idea of you’re literally doing it as we speak, you’re in the process of doing it. That is when you’ll add AWAY after verbs like TO TINKER AWAY, TO WORK AWAY, TO TALK AWAY, TO PLAY AWAY, TO RUN AWAY. In that sense, it means to be doing it right then and there.

Alright. So, you’ve got the idea of what TO TINKER AWAY WITH something or TO TINKER AWAY AT something is and TO TINKER WITH something. And so, as usual we can dive straight into the substitution exercise, or the exercise that I love to give you guys at the end of these episodes. This is the first time I’ve done this one on video. So, hopefully it’s not too boring and the good aspect, I guess, is that if you’re watching this on YouTube and you don’t like these exercises or you want to find specific sentences in them, you can skip forward or skip over it completely.

So, let’s just get started guys. And in this substitution exercise I want you guys to switch the verb TO FIDDLE (or the noun A FIDDLE) that I’m going to have in different sentences with the verb TO TINKER or the noun TO A TINKER. So, I’m going to have FIDDLE in the sentence, the first one that I say, and then TINKER in the second one, and I want you to switch the word FIDDLE with the appropriate version or conjugation of TINKER. So, let’s get started.

Substitution exercise: To fiddle/A fiddle – To tinker/A tinker

Stop fiddling with the engine and take it to get repaired.

Stop ________ with the engine and take it to get repaired.

He keeps fiddling with his broken watch.

He keeps ________ with his broken watch.

Granddad loves fiddling with his antique clocks.

Granddad loves ________ with his antique clocks.

I’m going to go have a fiddle with my car.

I’m going to go have ________ with my car.

He’s having a fiddle with his clocks.

He’s having ________ with his clocks.

You’re having a fiddle with your computer.

You’re having ________ with your computer.

She’s fiddling away with her broken earring.

She’s ________ with her broken earring.

We’re fiddling away with our new laptop.

We’re ________ with our new laptop.

They want to fiddle away with their broken radio.

They want ________ with their broken radio.

He’s going to fiddle with it for a while.

He’s going ________ with it for a while.


Here are the answers:

  1. Stop tinkering with the engine and take it to get repaired.
  2. He keeps tinkering with his broken watch.
  3. Granddad loves tinkering with his antique clocks.
  4. I’m going to go have a tinker with my car.
  5. He’s having a tinker with his clocks.
  6. You’re having a tinker with your computer.
  7. She’s tinkering away with her broken earring.
  8. We’re tinkering away with our new laptop.
  9. They want to tinker away with their broken radio.
  10. He’s going to tinker with it for a while.

Alright, guys. I guess that’s all there is to it for this episode. This has been a pretty long one. I hope you like the video aspect of it, for you guys who are more visual based and love seeing people talk, seeing people do gestures, seeing my reactions. I hope also for those who like the podcast episodes that it’s also good. Let me know what you think of the new mic. Is the audio better? Is it improved? Do you like it? Also, if you guys have expressions, verbs, pronunciation issues, any aspects of English that you guys would like me to do an episode on for you, in order to help you improve your English, definitely let me know in a comment or a message. I’ll design it like I do these episodes. I’ll go through the definition of the words or the grammatical themes, and then I’ll go through how I would use them in certain contexts, and then I’ll also go through some substitution exercises. And that’s the whole point. The whole point of me being here is to help you guys with the problems that you have. So, don’t be afraid to come and send me a message, comment on Facebook, whatever it is, let me know what you’re having an issue with at the moment and how I can help you improve your English. Until next time guys, I’m wishing you all the best. See you later!

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