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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Success in Writing

There is no formula for success in writing. The key to success is “practice, practice, practice.” After all, writing is a skill; like any other skill, you must practice it before you can master it. You learn from your mistakes, and practicing writing improves your writing. If you write everyday, you will become a more competent and proficient writer. If you learn the mechanics and techniques of writing, your writing will become more effective. It is just a matter of time. And it is just that simple.

Writing is a learning experience for all. Anybody who wants to write learns how to write. One learns how to write by writing—just as one learns how to walk by walking. Everybody can write, as long as the heart is willing to learn and master the skill of writing.

However, to be a good writer, you must possess certain innate qualities:

An interest in words—the subtle shades of meaning between words; the power of words; the sound and rhythm of words

A knowledge of and passion for the subject—writing what you love and loving what you write

A creative mind—the creativity to visualize with vivid imagination, and to see things from different perspectives; the ability to see the relationship of the whole to its various parts

Personal discipline—time set aside to write, to re-write, to edit, and to re-edit

Willingness to learn and to improve—mastering basic writing skill through repeated practice and editing

Remember this: failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Past Tense and the Past Perfect Tense

Learn the past tense and the past perfect tense.

The past tense referes to an action in the past. The past perfect tense also refers to an action in the past, but there is a twist in that the action can indicate the sequence of past actions.

e.g. He lived in South America before he came to the United States. (a fact that he came from South America)

e.g. He had lived in South America for many years before he came to the United States. (indicating a period of time)

e.g. The patient had died before the doctor arrived.(it was too late for the doctor to come)


e.g. I have called the police. (I called the police some time ago, and NOW you don't have to call the police again)

e.g. I called the police half an hour ago; they should be on their way.

e.g. I had called the police before you came back. (both actions took place in the past; calling the police took place BEFORE coming back)

You use different tenses according to the sequence of actions or the meaning attributed to your sentences.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Learn How to Use the Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood is one of the more difficult tenses in the English language. The subjunctive mood uses the past tense or the past perfect tense to indicate a wishful thinking or an action that is not likely to happen or did not happen in the past.

e.g. If I were you, I would accept the offer. (i.e. the offer is good, do accept it NOW)

e.g. If I were you, I would have accepted the offer last week. (i.e. you didn't accept the offer)

e.g. If you had called the doctor, the patient would have lived. (i.e. you did not call the doctor; the patient did not live)

e.g. If pigs had wings, they would fly. (i.e. pigs don't have wings, and that's why they don't fly)

e.g. If he has the money, he will help you. (i.e. he may have the money; if he does, he will certainly help you)

e.g. If he had the money, he would help you. (i.e. he doesn't have the money NOW; therefore, he will not help you)

e.g. If he had the money, he would have helped you. (i.e. he didn't have the money, and that's why he didn't help you)

Remember this: using past tense for a present action indicates the improbability of that action, while using the past perfect tense, the improbability of that action in the past.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Better English for You

Saturday, January 12, 2019

They Are Not the Same

Point of view / view

Point of view: a spot on which one stands to look at something; view: what one sees.

e.g. What would be your point of view if you were the President of the United States?

e.g. We would like to hear your views on this matter.

Dutiable / Dutiful

Dutiable: subject to imported tax; dutiful: showing respect and obedience.

e.g. Tobacco is often dutiable in most countries.

e.g. He is my dutiful son.

Loud / Loudly

Loud: an adverb referring to the note or volume of sound; loudly: an adverb referring to shouting and screaming.

e.g. You played that note too loud.

e.g. Don't talk so loud.

e.g. The protestors were shouting loudly

Altogether / All together

Altogether: completely; all together: suggesting more than one, or as a group.

e.g. The books were all together in a box, But going through all these books is altogether a waste of time.

e.g. We will work this out all together

Ineffective / Ineffectual

Ineffective: not showing any result; ineffectual: unsuccessful.

e.g. The proposition was ineffective, and, as a result, the whole project was ineffectual.

Overall / Total

Overall: describing a measurement between two extremities, from one end to the other; total: complete;

e.g.  What is the overall length of the bridge?

e.g. The project was a total success

Cover in / Cover with / Covered by

Cover in has the force of an adjective; covered with is used as a participle; covered by means hidden, and the word following the preposition is the agent or  cause.

e.g. My shoes are covered in snow.

e.g. The bed was covered with a beautiful blanket.

e.g. The bottle was completely covered by the box.

Approve / Approve of

Approve: give consent to; approve of: think well of.

e.g.  I do not think the committee will approve your plan.

e.g. I do not approve of my daughter's marriage to that young man.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, January 11, 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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Which Is the Right Word?

     its and it’s

e.g. The tree had most of its branches chopped off. (possessive of it )

e.g. It’s wrong to do this! (it is)

     lay and lie

e.g. Lie down and take a nap! (repose; rest)

e.g. Yesterday, I lay down for a nap. (past tense of lie)

e.g. I have lain down every afternoon this week. (past participle of lie)

e.g. Just lay the magazine on the table. (put down)

e.g. I laid the magazine on this table yesterday. (past tense of lay)

     like and as

e.g. The plan turned out to be successful, just like I said it would. (WRONG: like is not a subordinating conjunction)

e.g. The plan turned out to be successful, just as I said it would. (RIGHT: as is a subordinating conjunction)

     literally and almost

e.g. I literally dropped on the floor. (according to the actual meaning of the word)

e.g. The man literally dropped dead. (actually died)

e.g. I almost dropped dead. (almost, but did not die)

     loath and loathe

e.g. I am loath (unwilling) to tell you that I loathe (despise; hate) your parents.

     oral and verbal

e.g. I will give an oral presentation tomorrow. (spoken)

e.g. That was a verbal attack on my character (in words, either spoken or written)

     passed and past

e.g. I passed the exam with flying colors.

e.g. He ran past me. (beyond)

Past is never used as a verb.

     permissible and permissive

e.g. It is permissible to end a sentence with a preposition. (permitted)

e.g. They are very permissive parents, who do not even stop their teenagers from taking drugs. (permitting; liberal-minded)

     precede and proceed

e.g. This ceremony will precede the event. (go before)

e.g. Before we proceed, we must be prepared. (move forward)

    pretence and pretension

 Pretence means “make-believe”; pretension means “claim.”

e.g. The patient made a pretence to faint. (pretending)

e.g. I made no pretension to authorship of that article.

     principal and principle

e.g. Did you meet the new principal of our school? (head of a school)

e.g. Integrity is an important principle in life. (basic truth)

    purposely and purposefully

Purposely means “deliberately”; purposefully means “in a determined   manner.”

e.g. He purposely broke the chair to show his anger.

e.g. He began the project purposefully and without delay.

     rebut and refute

e.g. The attorney is going to rebut his opponent’s arguments. (speak or write against)

e.g. The judge has decided to refute the arguments. (disapprove)

     regretfully and regrettably

e.g. I regretfully told him that the plan did not work. (with regret)

e.g. Regrettably, the plan did not work. (unfortunately)

     reticent and reluctant

e.g. He was reticent (unwilling to talk) about his reluctance (noun of reluctant: unwillingness) to discuss the tragedy. 

     sensual and sensuous

Sensual means “appealing to the body, especially pleasures, such as sex”; sensuous refers to the pleasure of the senses.

e.g. The film was filled with sensual images of sex.

e.g. I stretched myself with sensuous pleasure in the warm tropical sun.

     some time, sometime, sometimes

e.g. I will see you sometime this week. (unspecified time)

e.g. Some time passed before the police came. (a span of time)

e.g. Sometimes I feel sick. (at times; not always)

     stationary and stationery

e.g. Before school starts, students need to get all their stationery. (pens, pencils, paper, etc.)

e.g. The bus is now stationary: you can get off. (not moving)

     use and utilize

e.g. You can utilize your abilities in this job. (make good use of, or else it will be wasted)

e.g. Use your brain!

     whose and who’s

e.g. Whose book is this? (who owns this book?)

e.g. Who’s going to tell me the truth? (who is)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Learning and Mastering English

American Idioms

All of it: the best
e.g. From the way he presented himself at the debate, he was all of it.
 Far cry from: very different from
e.g. Your achievement this time is a far cry from your previous one.

Sit on one’s hands: refuse to give any help
e.g. When we needed your help; you just sat on your hands.

As easy as pie: very easy
e.g. Cooking a turkey is as easy as pie.
Alive and kicking: living and healthy; okay
e.g. I had been sick for some time, but now I am alive and kicking.”
e.g. “How are you?” “Well, alive and kicking.”

Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Make no odds: make no difference
e.g. It makes no odds to me whether you come or not.

No oil painting: ugly.
e.g. To tell the truth, the dress you bought me is no oil painting.

Pardon my French: excuse my bad language.
e.g. Please pardon my French: I was so angry with his remarks.

Not a patch on: nothing to compare with; very inferior to.
e.g. Your current proposal is not a patch on your previous one.

Fall over oneself: too eager.
e.g. He fell over himself to get that job.

All the rage: fashionable.
e.g. Wearing a hat will be all the rage this summer.

Slow on the uptake: slow to understand.
e.g. I'm a bit slow on the uptake. Can you explain it once more?

Choice of Words

Adverse / Averse

Adverse means unfavorable; averse means opposed to.

e.g. We managed to survive in these adverse economic conditions.
e.g. He was averse to giving financial aids to the poor.

Await / Wait

Await means wait for an event, an occurrence, or a development; it does not require a preposition, such as for. Wait always carries the preposition for.

e.g. We await your decision.
e.g. The people were awaiting the outcome of the election.
e.g. He is waiting for your reply.
e.g. Don't wait for me; just go ahead.

Prepositional Words and Phrases

Follow on: die at a date later than someone.
e.g. His wife passed away. He followed on a few months later.

Follow through: continue to supervise.
e.g. I hope someone would follow through on this project until its completion.

Follow up:  check something out.
e.g. Please follow up this lead, and see what will happen next.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Learning and Mastering English