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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Words Easily Confused and Misused

The following words are easily confused and misused:

Abjure: swear or promise to give up; perjure: swear falsely under oath.

e.g. There were times when Christians were forced to abjure their faith.

e.g. If you perjure in a court of law, you will be prosecuted.

Some time:  a period of time; sometime: approximately (as an adverb), former or occasional (as an adjective); sometimes now and then (as an adverb).

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, but sometimes I don’t.

Lay: put down (a transitive verb requiring an object); lie: be in a resting or horizontal position (an intransitive verb, without an object).

e.g. To lay down one's life to save the life of another is a courageous act.

e.g. They laid a cable under the river bed (past tense).

e.g. They had laid a cable under the river bed (past participle)

e.g. I want to lie on the sofa (present tense).

e.g. I am lying on the sofa (present participle).

e.g. I lay on the sofa (past tense).

e.g. I had lain on the sofa for an hour (past participle).

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau