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, November 1, 2016

Colloquial Expressions

Language is forever changing. What is currently acceptable or popular may be replaced by something else in years to come, and the use of slang is a strong testament to that. Slang is just an alternative way of saying something. It is sometimes hard to identify what is slang and what is not. Slang and colloquial expressions are often acceptable in informal writing because they are used in communication in movies, newspapers, radio, television, and other mass media The more you learn, the more you will know when to use or not to use them in your formal writing. No matter what, knowing these common everyday expressions is a plus for all ESL learners.

By a long chalk: by a great amount.
e.g. He lost his re-election by a long chalk.

Get wise to: discover; realize.
e.g. Soon you’ll get wise to what is really happening under the roof.

Go the whole hog: go through thoroughly.
e.g. The prosecutor went the whole hog when he inspected the murder weapon.

Alive and kicking: in good health.
"How is your grandmother doing?" "Very much alive and kicking."

For a song: very cheaply.
e.g. I got that piece of antique for a song.

Head above water: out of debt.
e.g. Nowadays, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Mean-green: money.
e.g. Can I borrow a little mean-green from you?

All that jazz: all that sort of thing; etcetera.
e.g. He was telling everyone about his success in real estate investment and all that jazz. Well, we all heard that before.

In a jiffy: soon.
e.g. The manager will see you in a jiffy.

Next to nothing: hardly anything.
e.g. “Did she leave you anything at all?” “Well, next to nothing.”

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why Learning American Idioms

Learning American idioms is as important as learning the vocabulary, the sentence structure, and the grammar usage of American English. If you plan to stay in the United States, learning American idioms is a must.

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. 

The following are some samples of common American idioms:

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?

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.

Inch along: move very slowly
e.g. Business was inching along because of the economy.

You bet: yes, of course
e.g. “Are you hungry?” “You bet!”

Vested interest: a personal stake
e.g. He showed a vested interest in his uncle’s business.

Have a good mind to: tend to
e.g. I have a good mind to tell you the truth.

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

Under one’s own steam: by one’s own effort 
e.g. He cannot succeed under his own steam; he needs the support of his family.

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.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, October 21, 2016

Choice of Sentences

Writing is made up of sentences. Effective writing consists of different types of sentences put in different paragraphs to bring out the ideas of the writer. There are different types of sentences serving different functions.

The simple sentence

The simple sentence is made up of a subject and a predicate (a verb, or a verb + noun/adjective/adverb/preposition etc. to complete the sentence).

e.g. The woman went to Mexico.
             (subject) (predicate)

e.g. Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States.
               (subject)        (predicate)

Identifying the subject and the predicate helps you in subject-predicate agreement.

e.g. Drinking a glass of warm milk and taking a hot bath help me sleep better. (NOT helps)

e.g. Every house in the neighborhood has been searched. (NOT have)

e.g. Each of the students was given an assignment to do over the weekend. (NOT were)

The simple sentence (usually short) is used to make a statement, or to emphasize an idea.

However, overuse of short simple sentences may result in choppy sentences, showing lack of unity.

e.g. It was a beautiful day. The sun was warm. We wanted to go for a walk. We decided to go to the lake. (choppy)

e.g. It was a warm and beautiful day, and we decided to go to the lake for a walk. (improved)

The compound sentence

The compound sentence is made up two or more simple sentences joined together by a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, for, so, yet), or a punctuation mark (colon, semicolon).

e.g. The man took the money, and (he) ran away.

e.g. You finish this work, or you don’t get paid!

e.g. I don’t want to go, nor will I.

e.g. He was poor, but he was happy.

e.g. We were thirsty, for the weather was hot.

e.g. He worked hard so he passed his test.

e.g. The boy practiced very hard, yet he did not make the swim team.

The compound sentence is used to show relationship, sequence, or importance of ideas in a sentence.

The complex sentence

The complex sentence is made up two or more simple sentences joined together by a subordinating conjunction (after, before, since, when, although).

e.g. After the man took the money, he ran away.

The emphasis is more on he ran away than on the man took the money; the complex sentence here not only shows the sequence of the action but also focuses on he ran away “after” taking the money.

Compare: “The man took the money, and (he) ran away.” In this compound sentence, the emphasis is on the man took the money as well as (he) ran away.

e.g. Before the postman came, the woman had already finished writing the letter.

e.g. When the postman came, the woman gave him the letter.

It is important that you construct different types of sentences to express your ideas.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, October 7, 2016

Points to Remember Regarding Use of Words

Good writing means trying to avoid the overuse of clich├ęs (overused catch phrases and figures of speech)

e.g. busy NOT busy as a bee

e.g. confront the truth NOT face the music

e.g. everyone NOT each and every one

e.g. finally NOT last but not the least

e.g. firstly NOT first and foremost

e.g. gentle NOT gentle as a lamb

e.g. infrequent or seldom NOT few and far between

e.g. obviously NOT it goes without saying

e.g. seldom NOT once in a blue moon

Avoid weakling modifiers. Most of the following weakling modifiers can be removed without changing the meaning of a sentence:

e.g. actually

e.g. both

e.g. certainly

e.g. comparatively

e.g. definitely

e.g. herself, himself, itself, themselves

e.g. needless to say

e.g. particularly

e.g. per se

e.g. really

e.g. relatively

e.g. very

To use these weakling modifiers occasionally is permissible, but to use them frequently makes your writing ineffective.

Figures of speech add life and vividness to writing. Figures of speech compare one thing abstract with another thing, which is usually literal or concrete.


Metaphors are implied comparisons.

e.g. After listening to the speech of the senator, I was a volcano within although I was still calm without.

e.g. He is a hog at mealtime.


Similes are direct comparisons to bring out the imagination of the readers.

e.g. After listening to the speech of the senator, I was like a volcano about to erupt although I was still calm on the outside.

e.g. He eats like a hog.

Similes always use words as or like.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, September 30, 2016

American Slang and Colloquial Expressions

 Dead from the neck upwards: stupid.
e.g. Don’t follow his example; he’s dead from the neck upwards.
In for it: likely to have trouble.
e.g. If you don't listen to my advice, you're in for it.
Easy on the eye: good looking.
e.g. I say, your girlfriend is easy on the eye.
Act your age: behave yourself according to your age..
e.g. You’re almost an adult. Come on, act your age, and stop behaving like a spoiled brat!
Go: attempt.
e.g. Have a go at doing this on your own.
Easy mark: a likely victim.
e.g. If you are so unsuspecting, you may become an easy mark for swindlers.
Bazillion: a great number of.
e.g. The national debt is now in bazillion dollars, and the Congress needs to do something about that.
No way: not at all.
e.g. “Are you going to give him a hand?” “No way; he’ll be on his own.”
Beat: broke, no money.
e.g. Without a job, we are beat, no copper and no bread.
 Chip on one’s shoulder: a grudge against.
e.g. She still has a chip on her shoulder: your infidelity some years ago. 
 Ace someone out: win out over someone.
e.g. I plan to ace him out in the first round of the competition.
 Ask me another: I don't know.
e.g. "Does your daughter want a baby?" "Ask me another!"
 No two ways about it: no other alternative.

e.g. The man had to file for bankruptcy; no two ways about it
Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How to Be a Better Writer

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Distinguish the Differences between the Following Words

Effective writing involves not only having a good vocabulary but also knowing how to choose the right words to express the right ideas. There are many English words that are frequently confused and misused.
Could denotes potentiality; might suggests possibility.
e.g. Don't play with the knife; you might accidentally hurt yourself.
e.g. Could you close the window, please?
Exhausting means making one very tired; exhaustive means very thorough, covering a lot.
e.g. To remove all the books from this room is exhausting work.
e.g. This is an exhaustive inquiry, covering every aspect of what happened.
Momentary means lasting only a moment; momentous means important with great consequence.
e.g. There was a momentary flash in the sky after a heavy thunder.
e.g. The Senator made a momentous decision to run for President of the United States.
Afflict means to cause someone to suffer; inflict means to punish or put a burden on someone.
e.g. For years, he has been afflicted with muscle pain.
e.g. The tyrant had inflicted punishment on those who opposed him.
Pretense means make believe; pretension means claim.
e.g. He laughed and made a pretense not to be offended by the insult.
e.g. I never make any pretension that I am an expert in this field.
Circumspect means being careful and cautious of behavior; circumstantial means giving full details.
e.g. You have to be very circumspect when you meet the Governor.
e.g. The prosecutor is looking at the police’s circumstantial report.
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.
Secondary means next after the first in importance; secondly means in the second or next place.
e.g. Concentrate on this; that is only a secondary source.
e.g. Firstly, you have to take care of yourself. Secondly, take care of your family.
Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Idiomatic Expressions

Learn some idiomatic expressions. The English language is rich in idioms. A student with only limited knowledge of idioms will find himself or herself in a serious disadvantage in reading, discussions, and debates, not to mention in effective writing.

In hot water: in serious trouble.

e.g. If you don't listen to me, you'll find yourself in hot water.

A rough house: a fight.

e.g. We'd better leave before there is a rough house.

Get one's own back: to revenge oneself.

e.g. He wants to get his own back for the insult he has received.

Fall from grace: lose favor or popularity.

e.g. Armstrong has fallen from grace because of the doping.

All the rage: fashionable; in great demand.

e.g. Pink will be all the rage this summer.

Article of faith: an important element in one's philosophy.

e.g. Honesty is one of my articles of faith.

Come off second best: lose a fight or contest.

e.g. Despite all his efforts, he came off second best in the competition.

Writing on the wall: a warning of impending doom.

e.g. There were obvious signs that the company would soon be out of business; they should have seen the writing on the wall.

Third degree: physical or mental torture.
e.g. The police gave the suspect the third degree, but were unable to get any information about the crime.

Come to naught: come to nothing.

e.g. Despite all the efforts, the project came to naught.

A diamond in the rough: a person or thing with hidden value or qualities.
e.g. Don’t underestimate her—she’s a diamond in the rough.

Get on the wrong side of someone: to displease, or get out of favor
e.g. If you keep on bugging her, you will soon get on the wrong side of her.

In the melting-pot: not yet decided.
e.g. Because the President is not here, all the arrangements are backin the melting-pot again.

As safe as houses: very safe and secure.
e.g. Your money invested in this stock is as safe as houses.

Bad blood: unfriendly feelings.

e.g. There has always been bad blood between the two brothers.

Attitude of mind: mindset, way of thinking or feeling.
e.g. In order to succeed, you must have the right attitude of mind.

Bug off: stop bothering.

e.g. Bug off! And leave me alone!

Capitalize on something: make the most out of; exploit something to one’s advantage.
e.g. You should capitalize on your talents, instead of whiling away your time.

Keep an even keel: remain cool and calm.
e.g. In this situation, it is difficult to keep an even keel and not panic.

Have other fish to fry: other more important work to do.

e.g. I am not wasting my time over this matter; I just have other fish to fry.

Stephen Lau

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