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.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Learning Slang

Learning a language takes time and effort due to its complexity. 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. 

Power of: a great deal of.
e.g. Surely he can do anything: he has power of money.

Hold your horse: delay taking action.
e.g. Come on, hold your horse, and just take it easy!

Right you are: I agree.
e.g. "I think I'm going to accept this job." "Right you are."

All at sea: confused.
e.g. "What do you think of the proposal?" "I'm all at sea; I'm completely clueless."

Give someone a piece of one's mind: scold.
e.g. He was rude, and I would like to give him a piece of my mind.

Pop the question: propose marriage.
e.g. Did he pop the question on Valentine's Day?

All hot and bothered: agitated, confused, or excited.
e.g. She was all hot and bothered when she heard the news of their divorce.

Poorly: sick or unwell.
e.g. What's the matter with you today? I say, you look poorly!

Easy on the eye: good looking.
e.g. I say, your girlfriend is easy on the eye.

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

Say one's piece: say what one ought to say.
e.g. I must say my piece: that was not a nice thing to say to your parents.

Give someone a break: leave me alone.
e.g. Come on, give me a break; I don't want to hear this from you.

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Use of Tenses

Verbs form tenses. Tenses indicate time and sequence of events or actions. To write effectively, you must know how to form tenses and use them correctly. Some of the tenses most commonly used in writing are as follows:

Present tense indicates a present action or a fact.

e.g. The book is on the table. (a present action)

e.g. The sun rises in the east. (a fact)

e.g. They are my children. (a fact)

e.g. She sings like a bird. (a fact)

Present continuous tense indicates an action going on right now.

e.g. I am cooking my dinner.

e.g. You are reading this book right now.

e.g. Now she is singing like a bird. (At this very moment, she is singing beautifully like a bird, but it does not necessarily mean it is a fact that she always sings like a bird.)

The present tense may also indicate an imminent future event.

e.g. I am leaving for New York tomorrow.

e.g. I shall leave for New York next month. (the future more remote)

Present perfect tense indicates an action in the past as well as in the present; a past action with a present result.

e.g. I have been a student in this college for more than five years. (Five years ago I was a student, and now I am still a student in this college.)

e.g. I have spent all my money. (a past action with a present result: I spent my money yesterday, and now I have no more money left.)

Compare the following to have a better understanding of the difference between the present perfect tense and the past tense:

e.g. I have told him. (I told him sometime in the past, and therefore I don’t need to tell him now, or he should know it by now because I already told him some time ago.)

e.g. I told him yesterday. (an action in the past with no present consequence)

Past tense indicates an action in the past.

e.g. We left for San Francisco yesterday.

Past perfect tense indicates an action in the past in relation to another action in past time.

e.g. The student had finished his assignment before the teacher returned. (The student finished his assignment first, and then the teacher returned.)

e.g. When the doctor arrived, the man had breathed his last. (The man died before the doctor arrived.)

e.g. When he came to see us last night, our son had left for New York. (He just missed our son.)

Future tense indicates an action in the future.

e.g. I will see you next week (Compare: I am seeing you tomorrow).

Future perfect tense indicates an action in the future in relation to another action further in the future.

e.g. By noon tomorrow, I will have finished painting my room. (Most probably, I will finish painting my room in the morning. By noon, my room will look clean and fresh.)

e.g. When he arrives tomorrow, I will have completed the project for him to examine. (When he comes tomorrow, my project will be ready for him to examine.)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, February 13, 2017

Essentials of Effective Writing

Effective writing begins with a desire not only to write but also to write well. Desire galvanizes your efforts to improve your writing skill no matter what.

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.

What separates EFFECTIVE WRITING Made Simple from other books on how to improve your writing skill?

First, this book is presented in a simple and easy-to-follow format: it is easy to read and understand. Second, this book is comprehensive: it covers every aspect of good writing—from basic grammar, correct sentences, effective use of words, paragraph development, to style and usage. With many examples and illustrations, this book is like a handy manual at your fingertips for easy reference. Effective writing is an essential communication skill in inter-personal relationships and in almost every profession.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, February 10, 2017

Preparing Yourself for Effective Writing

To write effectively, you must prepare yourself.

Getting Some Basic Tools

Effective writing requires lifelong learning and finding answers to all your questions about writing. Accordingly, you need to get some basic tools for your effective writing: 

A dictionary 

Use a dictionary to find out what words mean and to make sure that words mean what you think they mean.

Use a dictionary to see a word in context so that you have better understanding of how that word should be used in your own writing.

Use a dictionary to find out the preferred spelling of a word because the same word can be spelled differently.

Use a dictionary to determine the usage of a word, such as the preposition that normally goes with it

A thesaurus

A thesaurus may help you find the right word to use. Sometimes you cannot recall a certain word that you may wish to use; in that case, a dictionary may not be able to help you. A thesaurus provides words and phrases that are close in meaning. 

Understanding the Purpose of Writing 

You write not just for your teachers or your readers, but, more importantly, for yourself. There are several reasons why you should write: 

Writing may be a part of your job description. Writing letters, memos, reports, minutes of meetings, and sending e-mails may be your daily tasks at your workplace.

Writing affords you an opportunity to explore yourself—your thoughts and feelings. Writing is often a journey of self-discovery: you begin to find out more about who you are, and what your values are. Writing is more than an expression of self: it creates the self. To that end, you can write a diary or journal for self-expression. Regular journal writing not only improves your writing skill but also expands your thinking.

Writing helps you organize your thinking. Effective writing requires you to put your random thoughts into a coherent pattern. Through writing, you learn to mentally articulate your ideas in a more logical and systematic way. Writing regularly improves your logic and sharpens your power of reasoning.

Writing enhances your ability to use language for specific purposes. You begin to realize how some writers use manipulative language to persuade others. Accordingly, you learn to “read between the lines” as well as to recognize the truths from the myths.

Writing is an effective means of communication with others. Even when you write an e-mail to your friends, you have to make yourself intelligible by writing what you mean and meaning what you write.

Writing is an important communication skill. Reap all the benefits of writing by learning how to write. Make a virtue out of your necessity.

What separates EFFECTIVE WRITING Made Simple from other books on how to improve your writing skill?

First, this book is presented in a simple and easy-to-follow format: it is easy to read and understand. Second, this book is comprehensive: it covers every aspect of good writing—from basic grammar, correct sentences, effective use of words, paragraph development, to style and usage. With many examples and illustrations, this book is like a handy manual at your fingertips for easy reference. Effective writing is an essential communication skill in inter-personal relationships and in almost every profession.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Origin of Some English Words and Phrases

The Origin and Meaning of Words and Phrases 

The English language is full of words and phrases, which can add spice to your writing. Knowing their origin and meaning may help you remember them through visualization (i.e. creating "reality" with a mental image). Repeating aloud also helps you remember them. 


Hamburger is made of beef; it has little to do with pigs. It was invented in Hamburg—an easy way to make steak by frying beef. The word began to appear in English at the end of the 19th century.


Blockbuster was a term used by British pilots in World War II to describe extremely large type of bombs. Nowadays, it refers to a box office movie.

e.g. Did you watch that all-time Hollywood blockbusterGone with the Wind?

Brass tacks

Brass tacks were used in fabric stores to measure the exact yardage of fabrics sold to customers. Get down to brass tacks is an informal expression meaning “coming to really important facts.”

e.g. After a very brief introduction, the chairman came down to brass tacks and began outlining the future of the company.


Cheesy is an informal word alluding to the unpleasant smell of overripe cheese; hence, it means "tasteless" (figuratively), "cheap," or "shoddy." It can be applied to anything conveying that meaning. 

e.g. Your so-called fashion statement is cheesy.       


Pandemonium, meaning “mass confusion and disorder” was used by the famous poet John Milton, who invented the word as the capital of Hell in his Paradise Lost.

e.g. The hotel lobby became a pandemonium when the terrorists came in with their guns and bombs.

Salad days

Salad days are the days of youth without too much life experience. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra.

e.g. Going for a midnight swim in the nude is one of the things you might have done in your salad days.

Kangaroo court

Kangaroo court means “a mockery of justice.” It does not come from Australia, which is the only place where you will find kangaroos. The phase was used to show the absurdity or unnaturalness of legal justice in the American West in the nineteenth century.

e.g. The students in that high school thought that their principal was running a kangaroo court when it came to punishing students for their misbehavior.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth is an English proverb meaning “not to be too critical of a gift one has received.” It refers to the practice of assessing the condition of a horse prior to purchase by looking at its teeth for signs of age or disease.

e.g. Don’t be so critical; after all, it’s free. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!

Buy a pig in a poke

Buy a pig in a poke means “buying something without seeing it.” A poke is an archaic (old) word for “bag.”

e.g. Buying a book online is like buying a pig in a poke.

Take something with a grain of salt 

Do not believe everything. At the dinner table, a dash of salt may make believe that the cooking is good, when in fact it is not.

e.g. He was telling a tall story, and everybody seemed to take it with a grain of salt.

Run amok

Run amok comes from the Malay word “amok” meaning “a state of frenzy or uncontrollable behavior.”

e.g. When the parents were not at home, the children often ran amok.

Come a cropper

Come a cropper comes from horse riding and horse hurdling (jumping over a hurdle) during which the rider falls from the horse. The phrase means “fail in an attempt” to do something.

e.g. With mounting debt and increasing liabilities, your attempt to save the company from bankruptcy may come a cropper.

Mad money

Mad money refers to money a woman used to carry with her in case her date did not escort her home. Nowadays, mad money refers to extra spending money or money to be spent on unexpected purchase.

Stephen Lau

Read my book Effective Writing Made Simple. To download the Amazon Kindle edition, click here; to purchase the paperback edition, click here

Friday, February 3, 2017

Prepositional Phrases


Argue back: answer back.

e.g. I wish he would not argue back so much.

Argue down: defeat someone in a debate.

e.g. He tries to argue down everyone who has opposite views.

Argue for: make a case for someone.

e.g. My lawyer will argue for me in court.

Argue into: convince someone to do something.

e.g. I could not argue myself into helping you in this project.

Argue with: challenge someone or something.

e.g. I won’t argue with what you do; after all, it is your choice.


Close down: close permanently; out of business.

e.g. The factory closed down last month due to the economy.

Close in: encircle and threaten.

e.g. We are now closing in on our enemies.

Close up: close temporarily.

e.g. Come back tomorrow; we're now closing up.


Find out: discover; learn.

e.g. The police eventually found out the truth of the murder case.

e.g. Sooner or later you will find out all the facts.


Accommodate to: adapt to.

e.g. I have to accommodate myself to the new routine.

Accommodate with: provide something special for something.

e.g. We will accommodate you with a new car.


Follow on: die at a date later than someone.

e.g. He followed on after his wife a few months later.

Follow through: continue to supervise.

e.g. I hope someone would follow through on this project until its completion.

Follow something up:  check something out.

e.g. Please follow up this lead.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau