The Cup Of Sugar — a Fantastic Tales short story for English reading and speaking

The Cup of Sugar blog header

Susan gets a knock on the door from her neighbour, Becky.

She wants to return a cup of sugar that she borrowed from Susan. But Susan says there is no need to return it.

Then things escalate…


This is an English short story that you can use in your English class or ESL class.

It comes complete with a full short story plus reading comprehension questions, vocabulary exercises and many discussion questions.

It is ready for you to download and use in your class today!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below…

a cup of sugar


Have you ever borrowed something from a neighbour?

Should neighbours help each other?

Do you pay back or give back anything you borrow from a neighbour?

What if it were just one cup of sugar?

The Cup of Sugar

There was a knock at the door and Susan got up from the sofa to answer it.

She opened the door and saw her neighbour Becky.

“Hi,” said Becky. “I want to return this cup of sugar I borrowed the other day.”

In her hands, she had a cup of sugar. Earlier in the week, Becky had knocked on Susan’s door and asked to borrow a cup of sugar.

She said she was making pancakes and needed some sugar but had forgotten to buy any in the supermarket.

Susan thought it was no problem to give Becky one cup of sugar.

What is a cup of sugar anyway? It’s nothing.

And neighbours should help each other. Shouldn’t they?

“Oh, Becky,” said Susan. “Don’t be silly. I don’t need you to return a cup of sugar. Neighbours should help each other. It’s nothing at all.”

Becky smiled back at her. Her eyes wide open.

Then, Susan could hear her telephone ringing inside the house.

“I gotta get that,” she said. And she waved goodbye to Becky and closed the door.

About an hour later, there was another knock at the door.

Susan ran to answer it, and there was Becky. A cup of sugar in her hand.

Becky was smiling, but there was a tightness around her lips.

“Susan, dear,” she said. “I would like to return this cup of sugar I borrowed.” She raised the cup of sugar for Susan to see. “All debts must be paid.”

Susan stared back at the cup of sugar. And a relatively smaller cup than the cup she had originally given to Becky.

With the emphasis on the word ‘given’.

She had given Becky this cup of sugar. That is what neighbours did. They helped each other.

And now this woman — a woman she had waved to in the morning — wanted to be petty about the whole situation and make it into a kind of contest.

Susan stared back at Becky.

“I don’t want it,” she said with a smile of her own. “I gave you that sugar in good faith. There is no need to return it.”

And with that, she politely, but firmly, closed the door.

Susan went back to her sofa. She planned on doing some reading for the rest of the day.

No sooner had she sat down and got comfortable than there was a very loud banging on the front door.

Susan immediately knew who it could be and marched to the door to open it.

There was Becky, this time with a full one-kilo bag of sugar.

“Here is your damn sugar!” she yelled. And threw the bag over Susan’s shoulder.

It landed at the bottom of the stairs with a dull thud.

The opening of the bag split open and some of the sugar granules spilled out onto the carpet.

Susan stared at it in disbelief.

Just as she turned to respond to Becky, she saw her marching back across the road to her own house.

Susan went into a quiet rage.

The nerve of this woman!

She grabbed her car keys and drove at great speed to the local supermarket. There she bought all the stock of sugar that the supermarket had on its shelves and drove back home again.

She placed all the sugar on Becky’s doorstep. Over twenty bags in total. That would show her.

Then she went back home and called Becky on the phone.

“Hi, Becky, dear,” she said. “There is no need for you to return any sugar. I have left a little something for you on your doorstep.”

She put the phone down and rushed to the window.

There she saw Becky opening her own door and catching the sight of all the bags of sugar on her doorstep. She let out a scream of anguish and Susan covered her mouth to laugh.

Susan went to the kitchen. She put the kettle on to make herself a well-deserved cup of tea.

“That showed her,” she thought to herself.

It was so juvenile, the way some people behaved.

There was that time when her husband Dan had borrowed some hedge clippers from the old man up the road, Mr Sykes.

He had them for just two days before Mr Sykes came banging on the door, demanding them back again.

Where are my hedge clippers? He yelled through the letterbox.

The kettle boiled, and Susan poured hot water on the tea in the pot. She glanced out the window to look at her lawn.

And there was another occasion when her son had left his bike parked on the sidewalk in front of their house.

Susan came outside to see a note on her front door. It demanded that people make sure the walkways in the neighbourhood were left clear at all times.

She poured the brewed tea into her cup. Then opened the fridge door to take the milk out.

It’s like Dan said: You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose family or neighbours.

She poured a dash of milk into her tea, then went to the cupboard for the sugar.

She pulled the cupboard door open but couldn’t see the sugar.

Where was it?

Susan looked in the other cupboards, but it was not there.

How could it be?

Had she run out of sugar?

She scrambled around the kitchen, looking for the bowl of sugar. But she could not see it.

It was like it had disappeared completely.

She looked at the inviting cup of tea. She couldn’t enjoy it without her usual one spoon of sugar in it.

There was only one thing to do.

Becky would have some sugar. She always had sugar.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Susan had borrowed a cup of sugar from her.

Yes, that’s what she would do. She would ask Becky for some sugar.

She grabbed a cup and marched to the door to knock on Becky’s door.

After all, that’s what neighbours were for.


Reading Comprehension Questions

Who are the two characters in this story?

What was Becky visiting Susan at the beginning of the story?

What was Susan’s reaction when Becky tried to return the borrowed cup of sugar?

How was the conversation between Susan and Becky interrupted?

How much time had passed before Becky knocked on the door a second time?

Why did Becky insist on returning the cup of sugar?

What phrase did she use to emphasize her point?

What did Susan notice about the size of the cup of sugar in Becky’s hand?

How did Susan respond to Becky the second time she knocked on Susan’s door?

What was Susan’s plan for the rest of the day?

What was Becky holding in her hands the third time she came to Susan’s door?

What did Becky do with this object?

How did Susan respond this time?

Did she speak to Becky?

Where did Becky go?

Describe Susan’s feelings at this point in the story.

What did Susan do next?

Where did she go?

How much sugar did she buy?

What did she do with all the sugar she bought?

How many bags of sugar in total?

How did Susan make contact with Becky?

What did Susan tell Becky?

How did Susan observe Becky?

What was Becky’s response when she saw all the sugar on her doorstep?

How did Susan respond?

What did Susan do next?

What previous account does the story talk about between her husband and another neighbour?

What had Susan’s son done with his bike on another occasion?

What did her husband say about neighbours?

When Susan finished making her tea, did she find any sugar in her cupboard?

How much sugar does Susan usually like to put in her tea?

Who does she think she can ask for a cup of sugar?

Essential Vocabulary


Good faith





















Hedge clippers







Write down all the words and phrases in your vocabulary notebook. Look in your dictionary and find the meaning of each word. Write the definition next to each word.

Then make up your own sentences using each word or phrase.


For example:


KnockTo strike an object, usually a door, with your hand, making a loud noise. This is to signify that you wish to enter.


SidewalkA paved area at the side of the road where pedestrians can walk.


Then write a sentence of your own that uses the new word or phrase correctly.


I knocked on the manager’s door and waited for him to answer me.


It was a great day to walk along the sidewalk in my neighbourhood.


Do this with all the vocabulary and, over time, this will help improve all your English skills — reading, writing, speaking and listening.

a cup of sugar

Discussion Questions

What do you think about Susan’s initial reaction to Becky returning the cup of sugar?

Was this appropriate? Polite? Or ill-mannered?

Do you believe Susan was justified in feeling annoyed by Becky’s insistence on returning the sugar?

Why do you think Becky was so adamant about returning a small cup of sugar?

What could Susan have done differently to handle the situation with Becky?

If you were in Susan’s shoes, how would you have dealt with this?

What do you think about Becky’s behaviour throughout the story?

Was this justified?

Discuss the dynamics of neighbourly relationships portrayed in the story.

Do you think the two women know each other very well?

Are they behaving rationally?

What do you think about Susan’s decision to retaliate by buying and delivering multiple bags of sugar to Becky’s doorstep?

What would make her do such a thing do you think?

Is this a rational thing to do? Why/why not?

Was Susan’s reaction to Becky’s scream of anguish justified?

How do you think Susan’s relationship with Becky changed throughout the story?

What do you think are the underlying reasons for Becky’s behaviour towards Susan?

Did some other event happen between the two women in the past?

What do you think about Susan going to ask Becky for some sugar at the end of the story?

After all the things that have happened, can Susan justify asking Becky for some sugar? Why/why not?

Do you think Susan reacted in the right way in the story?

Susan seemed to retaliate in a very strong way towards Becky? Was this necessary?

How would this story be told if both the characters were men? Would it be the same? Or different?

Explain your reasons and ideas.

How was Susan’s reaction to Becky any different between her husband and Mr Sykes? Was it the same? Or different?

Do we live under any kind of social pressure to be nice to our neighbours?

How could proper communication between Susan and Becky have resolved things more easily?

What could they have done better?

What does the English expression ‘tit for tat’ mean? Is this story a good example of that?

Have you ever had a disagreement with a neighbour? How did you resolve it?

Do you get on well with your neighbours?

Or do some of your neighbours give you trouble?

Talk about your neighbours in class.

You can download the full lesson plan by clicking the link below!

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