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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

More Words Frequently Misused


Practical means related to practice; practicable means realistic or can be done.
e.g. You must find out all the practical details of the project before you agree to undertake it
e.g. The proposal is not practicable without the support from the government.


Concept means an idea; precept means a rule or command; precedent means a previous act or action taken as an example.
e.g. Do you understand the concept of love and compassion?
e.g. Example is often better than precept.
e.g. We should not set a bad precedent for your staff.


Instant means right away; instantaneous means events happening at once.
e.g. Do you like instant coffee?
e.g. The air strike and the ground invasion were instantaneous.


Mediate means to act as a peacemaker; meditate means to think deeply.
e.g. The President is trying to mediate between two opposing parties.
e.g. He meditated revenge after he was insulted by his coworkers.


Sedative means calming and soothing; sedentary means accustomed to sitting.
e.g. Taking some sedative medicine may help you get some sleep.
e.g. This is a sedentary job: it requires you to sit in front of the computer for hours.


Material means consisting of matter or substance; maternal means like a mother.
e.g. We live in a material world.
e.g. The senior nurse is providing maternal care to all the children in the hospital.


Precede means come or go before in time or place; ; proceed means to go forward.
e.g. Soaking the beans overnight should precede the cooking.
e.g. We decided to proceed with the plan, even without the funding.

Stephen Lau

Monday, December 8, 2014

Words Frequently Misused

Await / Wait

Await means wait for an event, an occurrence, or a development; it does not require a preposition, such as 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.
e.g. You can wait here.

Waste / Wastage

Waste means loss due to improper usage; wastage means loss due to decay, leakage or evaporation.
e.g. It is a waste of time to speculate what is going to happen.
e.g. There is much wastage of materials due to the toxic environment.

Look out for / watch for

Look out for and watch for are synonymous.
e.g. Look out for the enemy.
e.g. Watch for the coming election. (BUT "Watch out for the coming election" is incorrect.)

Good / Well

Well is generally used when prefixed to a participle to form a compound adjective.
e.g. The children are well-behaved.
e.g. This is a well-written essay.
e.g. This is a well-designed kitchen.
e.g. He is looking-well. (in good health)
e.g. He is a good-looking guy. (handsome).

Wet / wetted

Wet means to moisten with liquid; wetted refers to dampen something deliberately.
e.g. The rain has wet the soil.
e.g. The smell of roasted turkey has wetted my appetite.
e.g. I wetted the stamp to remove it from the envelop.

Beside / Besides

Beside means close or next to; besides means in addition to.
e.g. Please stand beside me.
e.g. Besides the good salary, the job offers many benefits.

Stephen Lau

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Words Frequently Misused

Lean / Lien

Lean means incline or tilt; lien is a legal claim.
e.g. Stand up straight and don't lean against the wall.
e.g. There is a lien against your house if you don't pay its property tax.

Recourse / Resort

Recourse means an appeal to; resort means turn to for help.
e.g. We may have recourse to compulsion.
e.g. If there is no solution, we may have to resort to force.(as a verb)
e.g. We may have to open it with a knife as a last resort (as a noun).
Indoor / Indoors

Indoor is an adjective; indoors is an adverb.

e.g. Basketball is often an indoor game.
e.g. It is raining; we'd better go indoors.

Smother / Smolder

Smother means cause difficulty in breathing; smolder means burn slowly.
e.g. For a while, we were smothered by the dense smoke.
e.g. The ashes at the fireplace were still smoldering.
e.g. For years, hatred smoldered in her heart.

Regardful /Regarding

Regardful means paying attention or showing respect for; regarding means concerning or relating to.
e.g She is regardful of all her customers.
e.g. Regarding this matter, I think you didn't get it right.

Infamous / Notorious

Infamous means evil or wicked; notorious means well known for something discreditable.
e.g. He was an infamous kidnapper.
e.g. Everybody knows that she is a notorious liar.

Stephen Lau

Read my most recent publication: Everyday American Idioms.for ESL Learners.(to get the paperback edition, click here)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Words Frequently Misused

Emigrate / Immigrate

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.

Complacent / complaisant / compliant

Complacent means self-satisfied; complaisant means too eager to please; compliant means obeying or submissive
e.g. I was filled with a complacent satisfaction when I eventually completed the project.
e.g. You are too complaisant with your boss: you over flatter him.
e.g. Unlike the computer, people are not compliant, and neither are they predictable.

Eminent / Imminent

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.

Overdo / Overdue

Overdo means do too much; overdue means past the deadline date.
e.g. This is good enough; don't overdo it!
e.g. The payment is now overdue

Wander / Wonder

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. 

Born / Borne

Born means to be brought into existence; borne means to be carried or tolerated.
e.g. Don't take me for a fool; I wasn't born yesterday!
e.g. The heavy burden of taking care of his family was borne by borne by him for many years.
e.g. All human sorrows can be well borne if you have faith in God.

Stephen Lau

Read my most recent publication: Everyday American Idioms.for ESL Learners.(to get the paperback edition, click here)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Words Frequently Misusded

Reign / Rein
Reign means to rule over; rein means to control (e.g. an animal)

e.g. The emperor reigned over the country for decades.
e.g. You must rein in your hot temper.
e.g. Beware of giving free rein to your reason. (i.e. not release from any restraint).

Faint / Feint
Faint (both as a noun and a verb) means loss of consciousness; feint means a misleading attack

e.g. She fainted when she heard the bad news.
e.g. The robber, who gave a feint, began to attack the policeman.

Hail / Hake
Hail means to greet or salute; hale means healthy and strong.

e.g. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."
e.g. A man is hale when his complexion is rosy.
e.g. This dress is too loose for you (not tight enough).

Some time / Sometime / Sometimes
Some time means a period of time.
Sometime, as an adverb, means approximately; as an adjective, means former or occasional.
Sometimes, as an adverb, means now and then.

e.g. We have been for the train for some time.
e.g. Why don't you visit me sometime?
e.g. She was my sometime girlfriend.
e.g. Sometimes I like her, and sometimes I don't -- that's our relationship.

Defuse / Diffuse
Defuse means to decrease the danger, such as deactivate a bomb; diffuse means to spread over a wide area.

e.g. It is difficult to defuse the conflicts in the Middle East.
e.g. Once you open the bottle of fragrant herbs, their scents will diffuse.

Lose Loose
Lose means being unable to find; loose means to set free or to become less tight.

e.g. Here is your ticket to the show; don't lose it.
e.g. Don't lose your temper (become angry).
e.g. You are too loose with your students (you have little or no control over them).

Foul / Fowl
Foul means dirty or offensive; fowl  a fowl is a bird, such as hen.

e.g. The smoke from that factory fouls the air. (as a verb)
e.g. He always speak foul language, even in the presence of ladies. (as an adjective)
e.g. We are going to have a roast fowl for dinner tonight.

Currant / Current
Currant means a kind of black berry; current means a movement of air or water; or of the present time.

e.g. We enjoy the dessert made with honey and currant.

e.g. The water may not be safe for swimming because there is a strong current below the water surface.
e.g. He always keeps me updated with current affairs.

Stephen Lau

Read my most recent publication: Everyday American Idioms.for ESL Learners.(to get the paperback edition, click here)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Words and Phrases Frequently Misused (3)

Compare to / Compare with
Compare to means showing the similarities; compare with means noting the differences.
e.g. Shakespeare compared the world to a stage.
e.g. Compared to your previous work, this is much better.

Indict / Indite
Indict means to accuse formally; indite means to write down or compose.
e.g. The attorney general decided to indite the police officer for shooting at an unarmed man.
e.g. The police would like the man to indite the occurrence of the events with all relevant details.

A few / few
A few has a more positive meaning; few has a more negative meaning
e.g. A few people might ask for your help.
e.g. We were disappointed that only few people showed up.

Perspective / Prospective
Perspective is an opinion or point of view; prospective means related to the future.
e.g. From the perspective of a woman, how do you look at this case of domestic violence?
e.g. Any person who walks into this shop is a prospective customer.

Ingenious / Ingenuous
Ingenious means clever and intelligent like a genius; ingenuous means honest and sincere.
e.g. This was an ingenious way of stealing antique paintings from the museum.
e.g. I am sure his feelings for her were ingenuous.

Marital / Martial
Marital means relating to marriage; martial means relating to the army or warlike.
e.g. I eoulf not to get involved with their marital conflicts.
e.g. A military court is a court court-marshal.

Forbear / Forebear
Forbear means to tolerate, refrain from; forebear means an ancestor
e.g. You have to forbear from asking too many questions.
e.g.  He always takes pride in that Charles Dickens was his forbear.

,Stephen Lau

Read my most recent publication: Everyday American Idioms.for ESL Learners.(to get the paperback edition, click here)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Words and Phrases Frequently Misused (2)

Approve / Approve of
Approve means to give consent or agreement; approve of  means to think well of someone or something.
e.g. The proposal was approved by the board.
e.g. I don't think I approve of the future of the economy.
Imply / Infer
Imply means to suggest; infer means to draw a conclusion from.
e.g. Your comments imply that you don't want to come to the party.
e.g. I can infer from your comments that you didn't like her.
High / Tall
High refers to distance above the ground or floor; tall refers to distance from base to top.
e.g. a high roof, a high window; a tall person, a tall tree.
Tall can also mean "incredible" or "difficult to believe or to do."
e.g. My boss gave me a tall order; I don't think I can do it.
e.g. He was telling such a tall story, and he expected us to believe it.

Artist / Artiste
An artist is someone who does art work, such as painting and sculpture; an artiste is a performer.
e.g. My brother is an artist--he paints; my sister is an artiste--she performs on stage.

Rise / Raise
Rise is intransitive (not requiring an object); raise is transitive (requiring an object).
e.g. He performed well and rose to the occasion.
e.g. The manager raised my salary.

Stephen Lau

Read my most recent publication: Everyday American Idioms.for ESL Learners.(to get the paperback edition, click here)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Words and Phrases Frequently Misused

Indoor / Indoors
Indoor is an adjective; indoors is an adverb.
e.g. Bowling is an indoor game.
e.g. It's going to rain; let's go indoors.

Impersonate / Personate
Impersonate is to copy or imitate a person for fun; personate is to claim to be another person with the purpose to cheat or deceive.
e.g. The comedian impersonated the President to entertain the audience.
e.g. Someone personated the client, and took the money.

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. I make no pretense to like her (I do not pretend that I like her).
e.g. I make no pretension to that award.

Welcome / Welcomed
Welcome is an adjective; welcomed is a participle.
e.g. You are most welcome.
e.g. You were welcomed by all of us in front of the house.

Providing that / Provided that
Providing that is incorrect.
e.g. You can go out to play provided (that) you have finished your home work.
e.g. You can keep the book for another week providing that no one has reserved it (incorrect: provided that should be used instead).

Ingenious / Ingenuous
Ingenious is clever; ingenuous is natural, free from deceit.
e.g. I must say that was an ingenious way to stead the money.
e.g. His response was sincere and ingenuous.

Accountable to / Accountable for
Accountable to someone; accountable for something (meaning "responsible for").
e.g. The Manager has to be accountable to the Board; he has to be accountable for all his business decisions.

Stephen Lau

Read my most recent publication: Everyday American Idioms.for ESL Learners.(to get the paperback edition, click here)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Learn 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

Effective Writing Made Simple

Monday, March 31, 2014

Learn Some Tenses

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

Effective Writing Made Simple

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Learn Some Tenses

Learn the present perfect tense: it indicates an action in the past, but with a present effect.

Compare the following sentences:

e.g. I reported to the police. (past tense)

e.g. "Why don't you call the police?" "I have reported to the police."(present perfect tense)

In the first example, the action took place in the past, e.g. "yesterday."

In the second example, the action also took place in the past, but the past action has a present "implication" or "effect"; that is, "I don't have to report to the police NOW, because I already REPORTED yesterday. So the present perfect tense is: past action + present effect.

e.g. The patient has died.(it's TOO LATE to call the doctor)

e.g. He has messed up our plans. (that is why everything is a mess NOW)

e.g. I have watched that movie. (I don't want to see it AGAIN)

e.g. The crime rate has gone up in Chicago. (the crime rate is STILL GOING UP)

Compare the following:

e.g. Many people die from cancer. (present tense, indicating a FACT)

e.g. He messes up our plans. (i.e. he is a trouble maker all the time)

e.g. My dog watches the door at night. (it stays close to the door every night)

e.g. Food prices go up with inflation. (food prices and inflation go hand in hand)

Next time, I'll talk about past tense and past perfect tense.

To learn more about tenses, read my book Effective Writing Made Simple.

Stephen Lau

Friday, March 14, 2014

Learn Some Tenses

Tenses play a pivotal role in effective writing: they highlight the time sequence of events. In other languages, for example, the Chinese language, there are no tenses; time sequence is indicated simply by using adverbs (words that describe or modify the verbs in sentences), such as "today", "tomorrow", "now" , "last week" , "soon" and "later."

First of all, learn the present tense and the present continuous tense.

Use the present tense to indicate an action that is factual or habitual. Examples of the present tense are as follows:
  • I like hamburgers. (factual)
  • He eats like a pig. (habitual)
  • She enjoys ballet. (habitual)
  • Obama is the President of the United States. (factual)
  • They go to that church every Sunday.(habitual)
  • We love Italian food. (habitual)
Use the present continuous tense to indicate an action that is happening or going on at this moment, or an action that will happen very soon. Examples of the present continuous tense are as follows:
  • He is eating like a pig. (now he is eating like a pig, although this may not be his habit of eating)
  • She is enjoying the ballet; don't disturb her! (she is paying all her attention to the ballet at this moment)
  • They are going to that church right now. (they are ready to go now, or they are already on their way to that church)
Notice the difference in the following two pairs of sentences:

We shall leave when we are ready. (the action is in the future)
We are leaving soon. (the action is also in the future, but the present continuous indicates "very soon")

She plays the piano. (she is a pianist, or she can play the piano)
She is playing the piano (she is at the piano right now)

To learn how to write better, read my book Effective Writing Made Simple.

To learn about tenses, come back for more.

Stephen Lau

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Learn Some English Usage of Words

Effective writing means you use the language appropriately.

Indoor and Indoors: The former is an adjective, while the latter is an adverb

e.g. Bowling is an indoor sport.
e.g. It's raining; let's go indoors

Pretense and Pretension: Pretense (Br. English "pretence") is make-belief; pretension is a claim.

e.g. She made a pretense to faint in front of the audience.
e.g. Your pretension to the money is groundless.

Welcome and Welcomed: The former is an adjective, while the latter is a  participle.

e.g. You are most welcome (i.e. you are free) to take whatever you need..
e.g. The Queen was welcomed by the President of the United States

Infer and Imply: Infer means draw a conclusion from; imply means to suggest.

e.g. I can infer from what you said that you don't like him.
e.g. Your comments imply that she was not speaking the truth.

Await and Wait: Await must have an object (meaning be in store for); wait for a person or a thing.

e.g. A big fortune awaits the person with the winning lottery ticket.
e.g. I wait for my wife here.

Forbidding and Foreboding: Forbidding means discouraging; foreboding means suggesting in advance.

e.g. The embassy with its heavy iron gates has a forbidding appearance.
e.g. Look at the dark clouds and high winds foreboding an imminent storm.

Beside and Besides: Beside means next to; besides means in addition to.

e.g. He was sitting beside the President.
e.g. Besides the difficulties, you must also consider the costs of these projects.

Stephen Lau