Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Use of Different Prepositions

Learn how the use of different prepositions may affect the meanings of  sentences.


Delight in someone or something: take great pleasure in.

e.g. We all delight in your baby.

Delight with: please someone with something.

e.g. He delighted his wife with a diamond bracelet.


Answer for: be responsible for.

e.g. You will have to answer for your mistakes.

Answer to: explain or justify for.

e.g. You will have to answer to the judge for what you did.


Hold by: stick to a promise.


Check out: leave; pay bills.

e.g. We are going to check out the hotel at noon.

Check up on: investigate.

e.g. The account will check up on the sum of money unaccounted for.


Gain in: advance in something.

e.g. As you age, you may gain in wisdom.
Gain on: begin to catch up with.

e.g. We were able to gain in on the car in front of us.


Fade down:  diminish.

e.g. The thunder faded down, and soon the sun came out.

Fade up: increase the sound gradually.

e.g. Let's fade up the music when the speaker finished his speech.


Horse around: play around nosily and roughly.
e.g Stop horsing around! It's time to go home!


Abide by: follow a set of rules.

e.g. We must abide by all the instructions from the Mayor.

Abide with: stay with someone.

e.g. She is your wife; you must abide with her no matter what.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Write an Effective Paragraph

The Effective Paragraph

A paragraph is made up of sentences, which develop the topic sentence. A good paragraph must have three basic qualities: coherence, flow, and development.

Paragraph coherence

A coherent paragraph must satisfy two criteria: 


Every idea you express in the paragraph must be related to the topic. 


Every idea you express in the paragraph must be arranged in a sequence according to logic and importance.

Paragraph flow

The sentences within each paragraph should be appropriately linked, such that each statement connects with the one or ones preceding it.

Linking successive sentences within a paragraph is achieved by the following:

Using a pronoun whose antecedent appears in the previous sentence

e.g. I bought myself an expensive watch for the occasion. It cost me over one thousand dollars.

Repeating a key words used in previous sentence or sentences

e.g. I bought myself an expensive watch for the occasion. That watch cost me over one thousand dollars.

Using a synonym

e.g. Women attach much importance to physical beauty. To many women, looks are everything.

Using word patterns, such as first, second, third

e.g. There were several reasons for the failure of the project. First, the preparation was inadequate. Second, there was insufficient money. Third, the timing was inappropriate.

Using transitional words, such as accordingly, afterwards, as a result, below, consequently, for example, furthermore, however, in fact, therefore, etc.

e.g. The student has set his goal to pass his test this time. Accordingly, he is working extra hard.

e.g. We did not have adequate preparation. As a result, we were unable to deal with many unforeseeable problems.

e.g. The castle stood at the top of the hill. Below stretched miles of beautiful scenery.

e.g. We made many mistakes in the preparation for the project. For example, we decided to complete the project in three weeks instead of in three months.

e.g. There was a severe thunderstorm. Consequently, many trees were blown down.

e.g. We did not have the fund for that expensive project. Furthermore, we lacked the expertise and the manpower to carry it out.

e.g. He did work very hard throughout the last semester; however, there was little improvement in his grades.

e.g. That project was expensive. In fact, it was the most expensive one that the company had ever undertaken .

e.g. No one volunteered to help the disabled in this facility. In other words, no one really cared.

In addition, there should be flow between paragraphs. The above can be applied accordingly to link paragraphs as a unity. 

Paragraph development

Paragraphs are about ideas, facts, and beliefs. A good paragraph must be adequately developed. In other words, every aspect of that topic has to be fully covered. There are different methods of developing your paragraphs: 


Definition is required of an abstraction, such as religious toleration, and democracy.

You need to define or explain certain terms or ideas that you think your readers may not understand. You can define by using synonyms, that is, explaining something abstract in different words, usually simpler words.


If your topic sentence is a general statement, you need to support your generalization with some concrete examples. Illustration shows that you are not talking through your hat and that you know your subject. 


If you think the idea is important, simply restate it. Repeating what you have just said in a slightly different way is an easy way of developing a paragraph. A word of  caution: make sure your sentences are not in the same structure, and the expression of the same idea is different:

You can say what is not the case, and then assert what is the case.

You can also make your restatement from a general to a more specific one by giving more details.

Comparison and contrast

In comparison and contrast, you are dealing with at least two topics with similarities, or differences, or both.

e.g. In many ways London and New York are alike. 

e.g. London is very different from New York in many respects.

e.g. Intelligence is not exactly the same as wisdom.

Use of analogy

Analogy is a special kind of comparison in which another topic is introduced to explain or justify the main subject.

You may use analogy to clarify an abstract or difficult statement previously made; you may also use analogy to persuade the readers. 

Causes and effects 

Paragraphs are about facts, ideas, and beliefs. Accordingly, you need to explain why something happened, or why it is true or false.

Within this framework, you may have to give examples, compare and contrast, and restate your ideas.

Paragraph length

In addition to the above, a good writer should also consider paragraph length as well as the number of paragraphs.

Paragraphs vary in length. Short paragraphs (one to three sentences) are used in journalism with the explicit purpose of reporting information without discussion, or in technical writing with the emphasis on presenting facts without analysis. Generally, avoid a series of very short paragraphs, which may suggest poor development of an idea. On the other hand, long paragraphs are often difficult for most readers. Always vary your paragraphs: a short one followed by several longer paragraphs. A one-sentence paragraph can be very effective to emphasize a point; however, do not overuse it.

How many paragraphs do you need? That depends on what you have to say and how much you have to say. Any piece of writing should have at least an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. The number of paragraphs you are going to give to each is at your discretion.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, May 8, 2017

How to Expand and Develop Your Writing

To write effectively, you must know not only how to write correct sentences but also how to use your sentences to expand and develop your ideas. 

Develop Your Topic 

After introducing your topic, you begin to develop it by giving it more substance. Before you do that, you need to help your readers follow the flow of thought, which is expressed in the following: 

Point of view 

This relates to how you present a subject. It can be explicit or implicit; it can be personal or impersonal.

Personal tone: You play the role of the writer openly and directly. In this approach, you frequently use I, me, and my.

Impersonal tone: You keep your personality below the surface.

Your point of view should be stated or implied in the opening paragraph, and maintained consistently throughout your writing. Remember the following:

Select your point of view appropriate to your subject.

Establish your point of view in the beginning paragraph.

Maintain your point of view consistently. 


This reflects your personality in your writing. Your tone is inevitably implied in the choice of words you use, how you use them, and their arrangement within your writing. You reveal your tone towards your subject (it can be objective, subjective, or even angry), and towards your reader (it can be assertive or intimate). 

Plan Your Writing

 Begin your statement of purpose

Now that you have pulled in all your ideas for what you are going to write, begin your statement of purpose. Writing one to two paragraphs describing what you are going to say.

Remember the following:

This statement of purpose is for yourself, not your readers.

You have to think about what you can say before you can think of what you are going to say. 

Ideas have to be sought, and then arranged accordingly. 

Writing the introduction 

Introductions serve the following purposes:

Setting the tone of your writing

Defining your purpose

Drawing your readers into your writing

Ways for effective introductions

Begin with a relevant quotation that leads to the subject.

Begin with some background information that leads to the subject.

Begin with a relevant question that leads to the subject.

Begin with directly speaking to your readers in an imaginary situation related to the subject.

Begin with a relevant anecdote that leads to your subject.

What to avoid in introductions

Avoid making obvious general statements.

Avoid making personal statements, such as the use of I.

Avoid making statements that lead to nowhere. 

Planning the outline 

Divide your subject with all its ideas into major parts, and then into subparts. Your plan provides a guideline for you. You can always update and make changes to your outline.

Expanding the writing

You expand your writing by giving it more substance in different paragraphs, with a topic sentence in each.

A good topic sentence is concise and emphatic.

e.g. The United States is now in an economic expansion.

A topic sentence can be in the form of a rhetorical question.

e.g. Why do people go into debt?

A topic sentence is generally placed in the beginning or near the beginning of a paragraph. 

Writing the draft

Write your draft, which is an early version of your writing. Keep writing, and don’t worry about making mistakes in your choice of words or in sentence structure. Just keep on writing, editing, and revising.

In revising, read slowly, and read aloud so that you see as well as hear your words. Revision makes you more thoughtful and critical of what you have written; you will spot mistakes in punctuation, spelling and typing, lack of clarity, or inconsistency.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, May 6, 2017

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Learn Some American Idioms

Trump up: make up something untrue
e.g. The witness trumped up an excuse why he lied previously.
After all: in spite of everything
e.g. She didn’t get a good score; after all, it was her first attempt

Late in life: in old age
e.g. It was only late in life that he became a famous writer.

Poke one’s nose into something: interfere with

e.g. I don’t like the way you poke your nose into my affairs.

Run in the family: a characteristic in all members of a family
e.g. Longevity runs in the family: they all live to a ripe old age.
Above all: most importantly

e.g. Above all, you must have a valid visa if you wish to continue to stay in the United States.

Have it coming: deserve what one gets
e.g. Failure was unavoidable. What you did had it coming.
A little bird told me: somehow I knew

e.g. “How did you know what I did?” “Well, a little bird told me.”

Tie up: engage or occupy in doing something
e.g. He was tied up at the meeting, and could not come to the phone.
All at sea: confused
e.g. The lawyer was all at sea when he read the two conflicting reports of the incident.
As flat as a pancake: very flat
e.g. You left front wheel tires is as flat as a pancake.

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Language is forever changing. What is currently popular may be replaced by something else in years to come, and the use of slang is a strong testament to that. Colloquial expressions are often acceptable in informal writing. The more you learn, the more you will know when to use them or not to use them in your writing or speaking. 

Blue pencil: censor.
e.g. The committee will blue pencil whatever you are going to say.

Put one's shirt on: wager everything.
e.g. We have to put our shirt on this project; we've no other option.

Pooped: exhausted.
e.g. I was pooped after working for nine hours in the yard.

Hard at it: busy.
e.g. "Are you working on the project?" "You bet! I'm hard at it."

Not so dusty: quite good.
e.g. Well the performance was not so dusty; much better than I expected.

Are you with me?: understand or agree with me.
e.g. I've been explaining this for an hour. Are you with me?

Bang out: reveal.
e.g. If you go into politics, you must be prepared to let all your secrets bang out.

Half-baked: silly.
e.g. What do you take me for? A fool half-baked!

Not worth powder and shot: not worth the effort.
e.g. If I were you, I would just give it up; it's not worth powder and shot.

Cry blue murder: make a great fuss.
e.g. Just ignore him: he's crying blue murder over everything.

Beat hollow: be superior to.
e.g. She is bossy, beating everyone hollow.

Excuse my French: pardon my bad language.
e.g. Ladies, please excuse my French; he really made me mad.

Back to square one: back to where one started.
e.g. We're back to square one: no deal.

Jump on: blame or criticize strongly.
e.g. You jumped on him every time he opened his mouth.

Gift of the gab: ability to give effective speeches.
e.g. The new Mayor has the gift of the gab: people like listening to him.

Keep one's head above water: stay out of debt or a difficult situation.
e.g. In this economic environment, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More 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.

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.

Flash in the pan: only temporary
e.g. His initial success was only a flash in the pan.

Keep a straight face: refrain from laughing
e.g. It’s difficult to keep a straight face when someone acts so funny.
Add insult to injury: make things worse
e.g. Enough is enough! Don’t add insult to injury.

Have it coming: deserve what one gets
e.g. Failure was unavoidable. What you did had it coming.

After hours: after normal working hours
e.g. We are so busy that many of us have to stay after hour.
Just as well: good that an unexpected problem has come up
e.g. It was just as well the customer didn’t show up; we didn’t have anything ready for him.

Pitch in: help and get busy
e.g. We need help for this project; would you like to pitch in?

Play both ends against the middle: gain an advantage by pitting people on opposite sides of an issue against each other
e.g. In American politics, it is not common for politicians to play both ends against the middle to win their elections.

Quick on the uptake: quick to understand; smart
e.g. He is quick on the uptake; you don’t need to give him unnecessary details.

All thumbs: awkward and clumsy with one’s fingers
e.g. She will not learn to play the piano because she knows her fingers are all thumbs.
Make headway: make progress or advancement
e.g. Despite our effort, we have made little headway with our business.

Actions speak louder than words: do something about it, not just talking about it
e.g. Show me what you have done! Actions speak louder than words.

Have one’s fingers in the pie: become involved in something
e.g. As long as you have your fingers in the pie, things will not run smoothly.

Abide by: accept and follow
e.g. If you wish to become a citizen of the United States, you must abide by U.S. immigration laws.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau