English for Everyone

<b>English for Everyone</b>
Stephen Lau's website to help you get the wisdom to live as if everything is a miracle.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Everyday American Idioms

Idioms are words and phrases in a language that have come into existence for a variety of reasons, some obvious enough, some inexplicable, but most of them appropriately and delightfully characteristic of the race that created them. American idioms are no exception; they reflect American culture at every social level. They are used in everyday life, in speaking and in writing, in movies and on television, and by people from all walks of life.

Through thick and thin: through good times as well as bad times
e.g. Don’t worry! I’ll stick by you through thick and thin.

Meet someone halfway: compromise
e.g. He settled the agreement with her by meeting her halfway.

Name of the game: the main goal

e.g. The name of the game is winning; we must win this election no matter what.

Dog in the manger: a very selfish person
e.g. Don’t be a dog in the manger! You no longer need this; why don’t you give it to us?

Act one’s age: behave maturely
e.g. Stop behaving like a teenager! Act your age.

Lead someone astray: cause someone to do something wrong or illegal
e.g. If you are always in the company of lawbreakers, you  may be easily be led astray.

Had better: ought to, should
e.g. You had better finish your homework before going to bed.
Half a mind: a thought about something but without specific details
e.g. I have half a mind to close the store since the business has not been good.
Hammer out: work with great effort

e.g. We tried to hammer out a solution to the problem but without much success.
Late in the day: kind of late
e.g. Don’t you think it’s late in the day to change your tactics?

First and last: above all; under all circumstances
e.g. She was an accomplished pianist first and last.

Hit like a ton of bricks: surprise or shock
e.g. The sudden resignation of the President hit the people like a ton of bricks.

Go the distance: do the whole thing
e.g. This is a long, complicated project. To succeed, you must go the distance.

For a song: inexpensive
e.g. You can get this on the Internet for a song.

Pull the wool over someone’s eyes: deceive
e.g. Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes: I wasn’t born yesterday.

Take something on the chin: get a direct blow
e.g. The bad news was a shock to me; I took it on the chin.

Hold one’s end up: do one’s part; reliable
e.g. I know I can count on you; you always hold your end up.

Hit the nail on the head: do exactly the right thing
e.g. Your remark hit the nail on the head; that was precisely the solution to the problem.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Words Misused

Here are some of  the words which are frequently misused:

All / All of

All is used for amount, quantity, distance, and length of time.

e.g. all the money, all the way, all day, all night,

All of is used when a simple pronoun follows.

e.g. all of it, all of you, all of us.

All and all of may be used when it refers to number.

e.g. All or all of the employees are satisfied with the new policy.
e.g. All or all of the children in the family have gone to college

Potent / Potential

Potent: strong, powerful; potential: power that could be, but is not yet.

e.g. He is a potent politician.

e.g. He has great potential in American politics.

Right / Rightly

Right: immediately; rightly: justly, correctly.

e.g. Do it right now.

e.g. Do it right away.

e.g. I rightly canceled the trip.

e.g. We refused the offer, and rightly so.

Sensual / Sensuous

Sensual: related to the body; sensuous: related to the five senses.

e.g. It is difficult to be spiritual when one focuses too much on sensual pleasures.

e.g. The painter is able to provide some sensuous images in his painting.

Defer / Infer

Defer: give way or yield to; infer: conclude.

e.g. He is a good kid: he always defers to his parents' wishes.

e.g. We can infer from your statement that you don't like this policy.

Common / Commonplace

Common: shared or used by many; commonplace: ordinary, not unusual.

e.g. English is a common language used in Europe.

e.g. Nowadays, carrying a gun is commonplace.

Compare to / Compare with

Compare to: state a resemblance to; compare with: put side by side to find out the similarities and differences.

e.g. The poet compares living in this modern world to riding on a bullet train.

e.g. If you compare Plan A with Plan B, you will know that Plan B is much better than Plan A. 

Mediate / Meditate

Mediate means to act as a peacemaker; meditate means to think deeply.

e.g. The Secretary of State is trying to mediate between the two warring nations.

e.g. He meditated revenge after he was insulted by his coworkers.
Reverend / Reverent

Reverend: worthy of respect; reverent: showing respect.

e.g. Have you met the Rev. Mr. Johnson?

e.g. He gave a reverent speech on drug addiction.

In regard to / As regards

Both mean with reference to.

e.g. As regards your performance, I think you did a good job (no “to”).

e.g. She is very generous in regard to charity donation.

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Don't Let These Words Confuse You

Indispensable / Indisputable

Indispensable means absolutely necessary; indisputable means factual, without a doubt, and not arguable.

e.g. Air is indispensable to life.
e.g. It is indisputable that the verdict of the judge is final.

Prepossessing / Preposterous

Prepossessing means attractive or impressive; preposterous means absurd or contrary to reason.

e.g. She had put on a prepossessing dress to impress the audience.
e.g. You look preposterous in that ridiculous outfit!

Irritable / Irritant

Irritable means easily made angry; irritant means causing anger or discomfort.

e.g. He has a short temper and is easily irritable.
e.g. Nobody likes him because of his irritant behavior.

Preparation / Preparedness

Preparation means getting ready; preparedness is a state of being prepared.

e.g. The country's preparations for war are complete.
e.g. The country is in preparedness for war.

Inflammable / Inflammatory

Inflammable means easy to catch fire; inflammatory means causing unrest or bad feelings.

e.g. Be careful! This kind of material is inflammable.
e.g. The man's speech was not only anti-government but also inflammatory,


Purposely means deliberately; purposefully means in a determined way.
e.g. That guy purposely left the trash on the sidewalk.
e.g. The student purposefully worked on his project to get a better score for further advancement. 


Common sense is always put in two words. Use a hyphened compound work ass an adjective, and not as one single word.
e.g. Use your common sense when you do this.
e.g. This is just a common-sense approach to the problem.


Allow means permit; allow of means leave room for.
e.g. The new regulation will not allow you to do this.
e.g. The procedure is so precise that it will not allow of any variation.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, October 14, 2019

Knowing Their Differences

Eminent / Imminent / prominent

Eminent means important or outstanding; imminent means coming soon.

e.g. He is an eminent author whose books have been translated into multiple languages worldwide.
e.g. Look at the dark clouds above; I think a storm is imminent.

Endure / Persevere

Endure means to bear bravely; persevere means to keep on doing.

e.g. It is not easy to endure the physical pain.
e.g. In spite of all the difficulties, he persevered with his plans.

Observable / Observant

Observable: can be seen or noticed; observant: quick to pay attention.

e.g. The solution to the problem is observable to many scientists.
e.g. To be a good scientist, you must be observant of all the relevant details and data.

Deplete / Replete

Deplete means to empty; replete means to be filled with.

e.g. My illness might have depleted me of energy and strength.
e.g. Your garage is replete with garden tools.

Everyday / Every day

Everyday is an adjective.

e.g. This is an everyday event.
e.g. This happens in every day.
e.g. Every day somebody is killed on the road.

Pretense Pretension

Pretense is to make believe; pretension is a claim

e.g. She makes no pretense to like her mother-in-law. (She does not pretend that she likes her mother-in-law)
e.g. He made no pretension to that award. (He never claimed that he received that award)

Ingenious / Ingenuous

e.g. I must say that was an ingenious way to fund the project.
e.g. The Mayor's response to the questions from the reporter was sincere and ingenuous.

Noteworthy / Noticeable

Noteworthy means deserving attention; noticeable means easily seen.

e.g. The candidate's accomplishments are noteworthy.
e.g. The flaws in the Governor's character are easily noticeable to the public.

Emigrate means to move to a country; immigrate means to come to country.

e.g. Many people like to emigrate to the United States.
e.g. Those who immigrate from other countries must abide by the laws in this country.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Writing and Words

Writing is composed of words. Effective writing requires having a good stock of vocabulary. Good writers know many words, and they can select appropriate words to express their intended meanings. A good vocabulary reflects your intelligence, your education, and your skill as a writer.

Begin the process of learning and acquiring new words through reading, writing, talking, and listening. Always pay attention to unfamiliar words. If you come across them several times, maybe you should make an effort to learn them. Look them up in a dictionary to get their precise meanings, and learn to use them in your own writing. Do not reply on the general impression of a word: you need to know its precise meaning in order to use it correctly and effectively. Always consult a dictionary or a thesaurus, and check all words you are unsure of.

The more words you know, the better chance that you will find the ones you need when you are writing. Get a good dictionary, and consult it whenever needed:

  • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Dictionary, Boston: Houghton
  • Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, New York, Random House
  • Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English, New York, Prentice
Remember, word choice can make a great difference in the quality as well as the effectiveness of your writing.

Words for Readable Writing

Writing is made up of words, and effective use of words makes your writing readable.

You may write for different purposes: to argue for and against, to describe or narrate, to compare and contrast, to explain, to instruct, or to criticize. Irrespective of the purpose, there is but one goal in writing: to make your writing readable; that is, not only to communicate effectively what you want to say to your readers, but also to sustain their interest in what you are saying.

What is readable writing? Readable writing has three basic qualities:

  • It is simply written.
  • It is quickly understood.
  • It is interesting to read.
All these qualities have to do with words—how you choose words, and how you put them together in your writing.

Simple words and phrases

Simplicity is a virtue in writing: it is the economical use of words and phrases that mean precisely what they say. In other words, they immediately bring an image to the mind of your readers.

Here are some general guidelines on how to make your writing concise and precise with simple words and phrases:

Avoid using words and phrases that are impressive but may not be intelligible to the general audience. You write to communicate your ideas, thoughts, and feelings to your readers. Do not attempt to impress your readers with long and high-sounding words. Effective communication is your first obligation to your readers; make your writing simple and readable.

Here are some examples of the use of simple and direct words:

e.g. although instead of albeit

e.g. improve instead of ameliorate

e.g. stop instead of cessation

e.g. face instead of countenance

e.g. talk to instead of dialogue with

e.g. house instead of habitation

e.g. clear instead of unequivocal

e.g. use instead of utilization

Avoid using jargon or technical language of a special group if you want to make your writing readable to a wider and a more general audience. If need be, explain it in simple and plain language.

Avoid words with several syllables:

e.g. later instead of subsequently (four syllables)

e.g. mixed instead of heterogeneous (five syllables)

e.g. clear instead of unequivocal (five syllables)

Avoid words with long suffixes (A suffix is a part of a word attached to the root word; e.g. the root word in “determination” is “determine.”):

e.g. avoid instead of avoidance

e.g. decide instead of decision

e.g. implement instead of implementation

e.g. realize instead of realization

Compare the following:

e.g. The manager made a final decision on the implementation of the proposal. (too many nouns)

e.g. The manager finally decided to implement the proposal. (improved)

e.g. The realization of the failure of the project had struck him.

e.g. He realized that the project had failed. (improved)

However, there are no hard and fast rules on when to use the verb instead of the noun. With more practice, observation, and awareness, you will get the general idea. The rule of thumb is to use verbs instead of nouns, wherever possible. You make the decision; after all, you are the writer, and your writing reflects who you are and what you think.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau