Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Michelle Kaplan
"The New York Radio Girl"

Have you ever heard somebody use the phrase “tomato, tomato” in English?

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to pick between two similar options?

Today we are looking at this phrase and others like it to be used when you are trying to pick between two very similar options.

You will understand how to use it, how this works, and why it can be very helpful in the right type of situation.

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Hi ladies,

First of all, I want to thank you so much for your hard work to help us improve our English! I listen all the time, and I just love your show! I was listening to episode 1493 about fruit idioms, and I really learned a lot. Then the other day I was watching TV and the man said “tomato, tomato.”

I wasn’t really clear as to what this meant, and I’m hoping you can help me to understand. I know that tomato is a fruit but we often consider it to actually be a vegetable. What does this mean? Is it common to say something like this? I’m also wondering if there are any vegetable idioms that natives use as well?

Thank you, and have a good one.

Understanding Some Background

This is a great question, as it really gets into a common topic of conversation.

To give you a little background, you can find the episode referenced in the letter at this link.

Be A Peach And Listen To This Fruity Episode

This can be a little tricky because you may hear “tomato, tomato” in conversation, but you want to know how to pronounce it correctly.

The word “tomato” is pronounced differently each time you say it—so it ends up being something like “tomAYto, toMAHto” and then you can detect the differences.

This originally came from a song where they say both in that sort of way, and it is very much a British/American English thing.

Any people who speak British English let us know, do people really say toMAHto?

It is likely more about a British accent that makes it sound like that, but you can get a sense for how this works.

The difference becomes rather obvious because it is pronounced toMAYto in American English.

So this episode we will talk about what this phrase means, how it works, and when you can talk through similar options such as in this sort of situation.

We will do the veggie idioms separately because this deserves its own episode.

What does it mean?!

It means people do and say things in different ways and that’s okay, or it doesn’t really matter.

Why do we say it?

It’s a fun way to express that sort of idea, and it can work as a bit of a joke.

Using This In Conversation

So we’re going to show you the various ways to use this sort of thing, but in shorter roleplay segments.

This will help you to understand how this is used, and see it in the context of a conversation.

Roleplays are always so helpful, and in this case you can see how this particular phrase can be used naturally in conversation.

Let’s show how to use it in several roleplays, and you will see how it works starting here.

Lindsay: “So are you going to say you’re sorry to her?”

Michelle: “You mean apologize?”

Lindsay: “Tomato, tomato.”

What did this do?

You can see that Lindsay was being a bit rude here, so she kind of said it doesn’t matter and they are the same thing.

In this case saying sorry and apologizing are ultimately the same thing, and so they work in the same way.

Here’s another one that can help to illustrate how this phrase works in conversation.

Michelle: “So you use your right foot first in this move, right?”

Lindsay: “Tomato, tomato. Whichever one you are more comfortable with.”

What did this do?

Lindsay was giving Michelle some confidence—she’s basically saying it doesn’t matter and either way is perfectly fine.

It is showing that whatever you choose will work, and so this is a way to demonstrate the point in a positive way.

You can see that this phrase can be both positive and negative way, and that it works really well.

Here’s another one that can help you to see this in action.

Lindsay: “What’s his name?”

Michelle: “Sean Fraymer.”

Lindsay: “You mean Sean Frahmer?”

Michelle: “Eh, tomato, tomato.”

What did this do?

This one kind of comes across as a negative usage.

Names are really very important and nobody wants to hear their name used incorrectly.

You can hear somebody using this perhaps if they are looking through a giant pile of resumes for example.

Be aware that this particular usage can come across in a bad way, even if you don’t mean it that way.

Just be cautious and smart about the way in which you use it, particularly when it comes to somebody’s name.

You can now see how this phrase works and how it can be a helpful part of your conversations.

How This And Similar Phrases Can Work For You

You can see the various uses for this phrase, and they all make sense and work in their own way.

It is however important to think through if it is appropriate or not, or if the things being said are similar enough.

So this is where you have to ask yourself, is it okay to blow something off as being the same even if it’s really not?

Sometimes the similarities may be very close, and therefore you are perfectly fine using a phrase such as “tomato, tomato.”

It can work and help to illustrate these similarities and so it goes over just fine.

There are other times however where preciseness is important, so we have to remember that!

Information about people is important, as are things people work on—so be sure to remember that to cover all your bases.

If the situation warrants it, then you are fine to use this phrase but be sure of what you are dealing with and use it in the right way at the right time.

There are other ways to express this, and they can work just as well in the right situation.

Let’s take a look at this so that if you want to say something outside of “tomato, tomato” you know what options you have to choose from.

  • Same thing: You are saying it exactly like it is. You are essentially saying it’s the same thing, and so the similarities are likely very obvious. Here’s how that could go in conversation. Lindsay: “So you got 50 bucks right?” Michelle:” I actually have 53.20.” Lindsay: “Eh, same thing.”
  • Either way: This is very similar to same thing, but it means that you could go with this or that. It’s like saying that there’s a choice and you can pick either option and be perfectly okay with it. You can see how it’s used in this example. Lindsay: “Should I use blue or black pen?” Michelle: “Either way.”
  • Doesn’t matter: You are again saying exactly what you mean, and therefore it’s straight to the point. You are saying it really doesn’t matter to you which option you select and that it will be all fine because they are similar. You can see how it works here. Michelle: “Is her dog 2 or 3?” Lindsay: “Doesn’t matter.”

As you can see any of these options can work well, and you can figure out when to use any of them.

Just be sure that it’s in the right circumstance, and then you will be fine in your usage with any of these.

Roleplay To Help

In this roleplay, Lindsay and Michelle are at a bakery talking through options.

Lindsay: “Wow that nutella cake looks incredible.”

Michelle: “Um, I think it’s just regular chocolate.”

Lindsay: ”Tomato, tomato. It looks amazing.”

Michelle: “That’s true. Should we get two or three donuts?”

Lindsay: “Either way. Let’s go for three.”

Michelle: “Ha! Good choice.”

Lindsay: “Ok do you have a ten?”

Michelle: “I have two fives.”

Lindsay: “Same thing. Thanks.”

Takeaway

This was a great question that got us talking about similarities that you have to choose from sometimes.

We used this phrase and talked about its importance of it, as well as gave you some helpful examples.

You want to be sure that you use this or other similar phrases at the right time and in the right way, just to be sure that it’s appropriate and fitting.

Try these out today and see how they work for you when you are in the situation of picking between two things.

Veggie idioms coming soon, but for now you know how to handle such situations.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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