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, July 28, 2016

Choice of Appropriate Words and Phrases

Effective writing requires the use of appropriate words and phrases, which can make a great difference in the quality as well as the effectiveness of your writing.

Denotation is the precise meaning of a word; connotation is the association of a word, which can be positive, negative, or neutral.

e.g. slender with a positive connotation, suggesting “tall” and “thin”

e.g. thin with a neutral connotation

e.g. skinny with a negative connotation of being “too thin”


e.g. occupational hazard NOT occupation hazard (using noun for an adjective)

e.g. sleep well NOT sleep good (using an adjective for an adverb)

Well, not good, is generally used in a compound word to form a compound adjective:

e.g. A person who behaves well is well-behaved.

e.g. A person with good intentions is well-intentioned.

e.g. A person who speaks well is well-spoken.

BUT “a person with good looks is good-looking.” (NOT well-looking, possibly because well-looking may suggest “looking healthy”.

Using correct idioms


Idioms are accepted expressions in the English language. They add elegance to your writing. But incorrect idioms can make your writing look sloppy. The following are examples of incorrect use of idioms:

e.g. according to NOT according with

e.g. aptitude for NOT aptitude toward

e.g. capable of doing NOT capable to do

e.g. complain to NOT complain with

e.g. comply with NOT comply to

e.g. conclude by saying NOT conclude in saying

e.g. conform to or with NOT conform in

e.g. die of NOT die from

e.g. different from NOT different to or different than

e.g. every now and then NOT ever now and then

e.g. except for NOT excepting for

e.g. identical with NOT identical to

e.g. in accordance with NOT in accordance to

e.g. incapable of doing NOT incapable to do

e.g. in my opinion, NOT to my opinion

e.g. in search of NOT in search for

e.g. in sight into NOT in sight of

e.g. intend to do NOT intend on doing

e.g. in the year 2010 NOT in the year of 2010

e.g. on the whole NOT on a whole

e.g. outlook on life NOT outlook of life

e.g. plan to do NOT plan on doing

e.g. prior to NOT prior than

e.g. regardless of NOT regardless to

e.g. relate to NOT relate with

e.g. similar to NOT similar with

e.g. super to NOT superior than

e.g. try to see NOT try and see

e.g. type of NOT type of a

e.g. what to do about this NOT what to do with this


Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Writing and Words

Writing is composed of words. Effective writing requires having a good stock of vocabulary. Good writers know many words, and they can select appropriate words to express their intended meanings. A good vocabulary reflects your intelligence, your education, and your skill as a writer.

Begin the process of learning and acquiring new words through reading, writing, talking, and listening. Always pay attention to unfamiliar words. If you come across them several times, maybe you should make an effort to learn them. Look them up in a dictionary to get their precise meanings, and learn to use them in your own writing. Do not reply on the general impression of a word: you need to know its precise meaning in order to use it correctly and effectively. Always consult a dictionary or a thesaurus, and check all words you are unsure of.

The more words you know, the better chance that you will find the ones you need when you are writing. Get a good dictionary, and consult it whenever needed:

  • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Dictionary, Boston: Houghton

  • Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, New York, Random House

  • Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English, New York, Prentice

Remember, word choice can make a great difference in the quality as well as the effectiveness of your writing.

Words for Readable Writing

Writing is made up of words, and effective use of words makes your writing readable.

You may write for different purposes: to argue for and against, to describe or narrate, to compare and contrast, to explain, to instruct, or to criticize. Irrespective of the purpose, there is but one goal in writing: to make your writing readable; that is, not only to communicate effectively what you want to say to your readers, but also to sustain their interest in what you are saying.

What is readable writing? Readable writing has three basic qualities:

  • It is simply written.

  • It is quickly understood.

  • It is interesting to read.

All these qualities have to do with words—how you choose words, and how you put them together in your writing.

Simple words and phrases

Simplicity is a virtue in writing: it is the economical use of words and phrases that mean precisely what they say. In other words, they immediately bring an image to the mind of your readers.

Here are some general guidelines on how to make your writing concise and precise with simple words and phrases:

Avoid using words and phrases that are impressive but may not be intelligible to the general audience. You write to communicate your ideas, thoughts, and feelings to your readers. Do not attempt to impress your readers with long and high-sounding words. Effective communication is your first obligation to your readers; make your writing simple and readable.

Here are some examples of the use of simple and direct words:

e.g. although instead of albeit

e.g. improve instead of ameliorate

e.g. stop instead of cessation

e.g. face instead of countenance

e.g. talk to instead of dialogue with

e.g. house instead of habitation

e.g. clear instead of unequivocal

e.g. use instead of utilization

Avoid using jargon or technical language of a special group if you want to make your writing readable to a wider and a more general audience. If need be, explain it in simple and plain language.

Avoid words with several syllables:

e.g. later instead of subsequently (four syllables)

e.g. mixed instead of heterogeneous (five syllables)

e.g. clear instead of unequivocal (five syllables)

Avoid words with long suffixes (A suffix is a part of a word attached to the root word; e.g. the root word in “determination” is “determine.”):

e.g. avoid instead of avoidance

e.g. decide instead of decision

e.g. implement instead of implementation

e.g. realize instead of realization

Compare the following:

e.g. The manager made a final decision on the implementation of the proposal. (too many nouns)

e.g. The manager finally decided to implement the proposal. (improved)

e.g. The realization of the failure of the project had struck him.

e.g. He realized that the project had failed. (improved)


However, there are no hard and fast rules on when to use the verb instead of the noun. With more practice, observation, and awareness, you will get the general idea. The rule of thumb is to use verbs instead of nouns, wherever possible. You make the decision; after all, you are the writer, and your writing reflects who you are and what you think.


Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau