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 11, 2018

More American Idioms

For a song: inexpensive

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

Feel like: have a desire for something

e.g. I feel like eating a hamburger.

Easy does it: go carefully and slowly

e.g. This TV set is heavy, so easy does it.

All at sea: confused

e.g. The lawyer was all at sea when he read the two conflicting reports of the incident.

Rule the roost: be the boss

e.g. Who rules the roost at your house?

Then and there: on the spot

e.g. As soon as the candidate finished his speech, he was shot then and there.

Make or break: succeed or fail

e.g. This book will make or break my career as a writer.

Ins and outs of something: details to do something right

e.g. Take your time; you need to know the ins and outs of this procedure in order to do it right.

Has had its day: no longer popular

e.g. This bulky lawn mower has had its day. We need to get a new one.

That’s the ticket: what is needed

e.g. That’s the ticket! If you do as I tell you, you will succeed.

Under a cloud: under suspicion

e.g. He has been under a cloud; the police has been investigating him for some time.

Open a Pandora’s box: uncover a lot of previously unsuspected problems

e.g. If I were you, I would not look into his past; you might be opening a Pandora’s box.

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.

Pay the piper: receive the punishment due

e.g. You just can’t keep on spending without paying the piper.

Ball of fire: an energetic and enthusiastic person

e.g. We all want his presence; he is a ball of fire.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, October 8, 2018

Words Frequently Misused

Writing is made up of words. The first requirement of writing English is to learn some English words every day to build up your vocabulary -- you may have to know at least a few thousand words before you can write effectively.

Learning vocabulary may look daunting to you (you may not know the word daunting, but most probably you can still guess that it means something like "difficult"; that is how you learn a new work  by relating it to the context in a sentence), but you have to learn it cumulatively, that is, learning a few words every day. 

Corporal / Corporeal

Corporal means related to the body; corporeal means bodily and not spiritual.

e.g. Corporal punishment is no longer acceptable in schools.
e.g. We should be more concerned with our spiritual rather than our corporeal welfare.

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 collected.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

Prepossessing / Preposterous

Prepossessing means very 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!

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, October 4, 2018

American Idioms

Act one’s age: behave maturely

e.g. Stop behaving like a teenager! Act your age.

Play the field: date many different people at the same time
e.g. He wanted to play the field while he was still young.
Plead/take the Fifth (the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution): not to incriminate oneself
e.g. After consulting with his lawyer, he decided to take the Fifth.
Call someone on the carpet: scold or reprimand

e.g. If you late for work one more time, the manager will call you on the carpet.

Full of crap: talking nonsense all the time

e.g. I don’t like your friend; he’s full of crap.

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.

Pass the hat: collect money for

e.g. He is always passing the hat for something.

Pop the question: propose to marry
e.g. Now that you’ve got the ring; when are you going to pop the question?

No can do: impossible

e.g. He asked me for more money. I told him no can do.

Bag your face: shut up!

e.g. You and your loud mouth! Go and bag your face!

One’s days are numbered: about to die or to be dismissed

e.g. The manager doesn’t like her.  I would say her days are numbered.

Occur to someone: come to mind

e.g. It never occurred to me that I would fail my driving test.

Live beyond one’s means: spend more than one can earn

e.g. You are in debt because you are living beyond your means.

Pain in the neck: annoyance

e.g. You are pain in the neck, always complaining about this and that.

Over the hump: overcome the most difficult part

e.g. We are now over the hump; the rest may not be that difficult.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, October 1, 2018

The English Sentence Patterns

In English, the number of sentences is infinite. However, within this infinity, there are FIVE patterns:

Subject + verb

e.g. An accident happened.
            (subject) (verb)

Subject + verb + object (direct)

e.g. The man took the money.
              (s)     (v)         (o)

Subject + verb + object (indirect) + object (direct)

e.g. The man give me the money.
               (s)   (v)   (o)       (o)

Subject + verb + complement (of the subject)

e.g. She is pretty.
       (s) (v) (c)

Subject + verb + object + complement (of the object) 

e.g. They elected him President.
       (s)     (v)       (o)   (c)

e.g. They made her unhappy.
       (s)     (v)     (o)  (c)

Sir Winston Churchill once said that the English sentence is a "noble thing." As such, in order to write an effective sentence, one must know what an English sentence is.

A sentence is for communicating a complete thought, a command, a question, or an exclamation.

    e.g. I love you.
    e.g. Take it.
    e.g. Is it right?
    e.g. How wonderful!

In most cases, a sentence requires at least one subject-verb combination (e.g. I came.); in some cases, a sentence can be a single word (e.g. Help!).

The basic sentence pattern or sentence structure is made up of a subject and a verb:

           Subject                 Verb
           Birds                     sing

But you can add single descriptive words (modifiers) to add more meaning to the basic sentence pattern. These words can be: an article (a, an, the); an adjective (a word to describe the noun or subject); an adverb (a word to describe the verb).

e.g. The (specify which birds) yellow birds (the color of the birds) sing beautifully. (how they sing)

You can add a phrase (made up of two or more words with no subject-verb combination) to make the sentence longer. There are different types of phrases:

an infinitive phrase: to + verb e.g. to do the work, to play the piano

participle phrase: present participle/past participle + noun, e.g. playing the piano, the broken window

prepositional phrase: under the table, in the beginning

You can add a clause (made up of words with a subject-verb combination) to make the sentence longer. There are two different types of clauses:

an independent clause: communicating a complete thought, e.g. The man was singing.

dependent clause: describing another clause, and not communicating a complete thought, e.g. When the man was singing (what happened?)

You can change sentences into different types by adding different clauses:

The simple sentence: one independent clause making one complete thought, e.g. The man was singing.

The compound sentence: more than one complete thought, with two or more independent clauses, e.g. The man was singing and the children were dancing.

The complex sentence: one independent clause with one or more dependent clauses, e.g. The man was singing (independent clause), when the children were dancing (dependent clause).

The compound complex sentence: two independent clauses with one or more dependent clauses, e.g. The man was singing (independent clause) and the children were dancing (independent clause) when the light suddenly went out.

Effective writing is the use of different types of sentences (simple, compound, complex, compound complex) to give variety. In addition, vary the sentence length to avoid monotony in writing.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, September 24, 2018

Confusing Words

In the English language, there are many words that look similar and can be confusing, especially to ESL learners. 

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

e.g. The workload has depleted me of energy and strength.
e.g. Your garage is replete with garden tools.

Common means shared or used by many; commonplace means ordinary and not very interesting.

e.g. To be healthy and wealthy is a common New Year’s resolution.
e.g. Running may be a commonplace sport for many. 


Sedative: calming or soothing. Sedentary: accustomed to sitting; physically inactive.

e.g. The doctor gave her some sedative medicine to put her to sleep.
e.g His sedentary work -- sitting in front of the computer -- took a toll on his health.
e.g. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle even if you are approaching 60..

Genteel: well-bred, polite; imitating the lifestyle of the rich. Gentle: kind, friendly, mild.

e.g. Your friend is genteel. Is he very rich?
e.g. All along he has been living in genteel poverty. He is not practical.
e.g. Be gentle to my puppy.

Arise: appear; begin. Rise: appear above the horizon; get out of bed.

e.g. When he was just about to call 911, a few men in uniform arose.
e.g. The sun rises in the east.
e.g. He rises very early every morning.

Ingenious is clever; ingenuous is natural, free from deceit.

e.g. I must say that was an ingenious way to steal the money.
e.g. His response was sincere and ingenuous.

Wander means to walk aimlessly; wonder means to consider or question some issue.

e.g. The hiker lost his direction and wandered in the forest for some hours.
e.g. I wondered if he would come to the birthday party. 

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Be Concise and Precise in Your Writing

Be Concise and Precise in Your Choice of Words

Do not use a phrase if a word will do:

e.g. Many students have a tendency to skim through the instructions on the test.

e.g. Many students tend to skim through the instructions on the test. (better)

e.g. I will show you the way in which to do it.

e.g. I will show you the way to do it. (better)

 e.g. I will show you how to do it. (better)

e.g. The Senate did not pass the bill due to the fact that it was unconstitutional.

 e.g. The Senate did not pass the bill because it was unconstitutional. (better)

e.g. You should take the advice given to you by your doctor.

e.g. You should take your doctor’s advice. (better)

e.g. I was supportive of your decision.

 e.g. I supported your decision. (better)

e.g. The man conducted himself with irrational behavior.

 e.g. The man behaved irrationally. (better)

Do not say the obvious:

e.g. Her hat was red in color.

e.g. Her hat was red. (better)

e.g. The basketball player was tall in height.

e.g. The basketball player was tall. (better)

Avoid unnecessary adjectives, nouns, or adverbs:

e.g. These are vital essentials of life.

e.g. These are essentials of life. (better)

e.g. Do not question his technique employed.

e.g. Do not question his technique. (better)

e.g. There is too much danger involved.

e.g. There is too much danger. (better)

e.g. The Congress would make decisions about changing the Constitution.

e.g. The Congress would decide on changing the Constitution. (better)

e.g. You committed an act of violence.

e.g. You committed violence. (better)

e.g. It took a long period of time.

e.g. It took a long time. (better)

e.g. It was clearly evident that he took the money.

e.g. It was evident that he took the money. (better)

e.g. Evidently, he took the money. (better)

Avoid constructions with it is … and there are …

e.g. It is truth that will prevail.

e.g. Truth will prevail. (better)

e.g. There were many people inside the cinema when the bomb exploded.

e.g. Many people were inside the cinema when the bomb exploded. (better)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau