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, July 15, 2019

Don't Let These Words Confuse You

Indispensable / Indisputable

Indispensable means absolutely necessary; indisputable means factual, without a doubt, and not arguable.

e.g. Air is indispensable to life.
e.g. It is indisputable that the verdict of the judge is final.

Prepossessing / Preposterous

Prepossessing means attractive or impressive; preposterous means absurd or contrary to reason.

e.g. She had put on a prepossessing dress to impress the audience.
e.g. You look preposterous in that ridiculous outfit!

Irritable / Irritant

Irritable means easily made angry; irritant means causing anger or discomfort.

e.g. He has a short temper and is easily irritable.
e.g. Nobody likes him because of his irritant behavior.

Preparation / Preparedness

Preparation means getting ready; preparedness is a state of being prepared.

e.g. The country's preparations for war are complete.
e.g. The country is in preparedness for war.

Inflammable / Inflammatory

Inflammable means easy to catch fire; inflammatory means causing unrest or bad feelings.

e.g. Be careful! This kind of material is inflammable.
e.g. The man's speech was not only anti-government but also inflammatory,


Purposely means deliberately; purposefully means in a determined way.
e.g. That guy purposely left the trash on the sidewalk.
e.g. The student purposefully worked on his project to get a better score for further advancement. 


Common sense is always put in two words. Use a hyphened compound work ass an adjective, and not as one single word.
e.g. Use your common sense when you do this.
e.g. This is just a common-sense approach to the problem.


Allow means permit; allow of means leave room for.
e.g. The new regulation will not allow you to do this.
e.g. The procedure is so precise that it will not allow of any variation.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Learning and Mastering English

American Idioms

All of it: the best
e.g. From the way he presented himself at the debate, he was all of it.
 Far cry from: very different from
e.g. Your achievement this time is a far cry from your previous one.

Sit on one’s hands: refuse to give any help
e.g. When we needed your help; you just sat on your hands.

As easy as pie: very easy
e.g. Cooking a turkey is as easy as pie.
Alive and kicking: living and healthy; okay
e.g. I had been sick for some time, but now I am alive and kicking.”
e.g. “How are you?” “Well, alive and kicking.”

Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Make no odds: make no difference
e.g. It makes no odds to me whether you come or not.

No oil painting: ugly.
e.g. To tell the truth, the dress you bought me is no oil painting.

Pardon my French: excuse my bad language.
e.g. Please pardon my French: I was so angry with his remarks.

Not a patch on: nothing to compare with; very inferior to.
e.g. Your current proposal is not a patch on your previous one.

Fall over oneself: too eager.
e.g. He fell over himself to get that job.

All the rage: fashionable.
e.g. Wearing a hat will be all the rage this summer.

Slow on the uptake: slow to understand.
e.g. I'm a bit slow on the uptake. Can you explain it once more?

Choice of Words

Adverse / Averse

Adverse means unfavorable; averse means opposed to.

e.g. We managed to survive in these adverse economic conditions.
e.g. He was averse to giving financial aids to the poor.

Await / Wait

Await means wait for an event, an occurrence, or a development; it does not require a preposition, such as for. Wait always carries the preposition 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.

Prepositional Words and Phrases

Follow on: die at a date later than someone.
e.g. His wife passed away. He followed on a few months later.

Follow through: continue to supervise.
e.g. I hope someone would follow through on this project until its completion.

Follow up:  check something out.
e.g. Please follow up this lead, and see what will happen next.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Learning and Mastering English

Saturday, July 13, 2019

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

Friday, July 12, 2019

Idiomatic Verbal Phrases


Keep at: continue to do.

e.g. You must keep at it until it is done.

Keep down: prevent from advancing.

e.g. His lack of an advanced degree will keep him down in his career.

Keep on: continue.

e.g. Keep on, and don't give up!

e.g. Keep on with your good work.

Keep up: maintain the pace.

e.g. Keep up and don't fall behind.

e.g. You have to work extra hard to keep up with the rest of the class.


Clear of: show someone is innocent.

e.g. After the investigation, the police cleared me of all charges.

Clear off: depart.

e.g. As soon as the police arrived, the crowd cleared off.

Clear out: get out of some place.

e.g. The fire alarm is on; everybody has to clear out!

Clear up: clarify something; improve.

e.g. Can you clear up this statement for me?

e.g. His cold cleared up after a week.

e.g. The sky finally cleared up, and we could see the sun.

Clear with: get the approval of.

e.g. We will have to clear this with the Mayor’s office.


Dress down: scold severely.

e.g. The manager dressed him down in front of all the employees.

Dress up: put clothes on; adorn.

e.g. Wow! Look at you! You really get dressed up for the party in this fancy dress!

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Confusing Words

Accountable to / Accountable for
Accountable to someone; accountable for something
 (meaning "responsible for").

e.g. The CEO is accountable to the Board; he has to be accountable for all his business decisions.

Hail / Hale
Hail means to greet or salute.

e.g. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."

Hale means healthy and strong.

e.g. A man is hale when his complexion is rosy

Noteworthy / Noticeable
Noteworthy means deserving attention; noticeable means easily seen.

e.g. The candidate's accomplishments are noteworthy.
e.g. The flaws in the Governor's character are easily noticeable to the public.

Providing that / Provided that
Providing that is incorrect.

e.g. You can go out to play provided (that) you have finished your homework. (meaning: on condition that)
e.g. You can keep the book for another week providing that no one has reserved it (incorrect: provided that should be used instead)
e.g. The millionaire has helped the poor, providing many of them with food and shelter. (correct; meaning: giving or offering)

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.

Welcome / Welcomed
Welcome is an adjective or a verb; welcomed is a participle.

e.g. You are most welcome.
e.g. This is a welcome party for all newcomers.
e.g. I like to welcome all of you.
e.g. The guests were welcomed by all of us in front of the house.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Semicolon

Punctuation is a device in writing to help your readers understand better what you have expressed in your writing. There are certain punctuation rules you need to follow in order to make your meaning clear.

The Semicolon

The semicolon is used between independent clauses (sentences that are complete and can stand alone) not joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet).

e.g. I was very tied; I did not want to go home.

The sentence would not be correct without the semicolon, which replaces the coordinating conjunction but)

e.g. After hours of walking on the shopping mall I was very tied; but I did not want to go home because I wanted to buy a handbag.

In the above sentence, you may use both the semicolon and the coordinating conjunction, instead of either, because the sentence is a bit long.

e.g. The police knocked at the door; everybody in the room became frightened. (correct)

e.g. The police knocked at the door, everybody in the room became frightened. (incorrect: no conjunction)

e.g. The police knocked at the door, then everybody in the room became frightened. (incorrect: then is not a conjunction)

e.g. The police knocked at the door, and then everybody in the room became frightened. (correct)

A semicolon or a coordinating conjunction is required to join two independent clauses or sentences; then is not a coordinating conjunction.

Modifiers, such as in fact, on the other hand, for example, in the first place, still require a semicolon between independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction.

e.g. That was the best book he had ever written; in fact, it won him a book award.

e.g. That was the best book he had ever written, in fact, it won him a book award. (incorrect)

Remember this: the semicolon is a stronger break in a sentence than that of a comma, but weaker than that of a period.

Copyright© by Stephen Lau