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, April 25, 2019

Learn Some Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Learn Some Slang and Colloquial Expressions 

Spill the beans: give information unintentionally.
e.g. "I told them that you will be on vacation next week." "It's supposed to be a secret. Well, you just spilled the beans.

Spitting image: exact image.
e.g. He has a spitting image of his brother: they are twins.

Bat along: move along smoothly.
e.g. This is not rush hour, and cars do bat along.

Bone-head: a simple-minded person
e.g. Don't be a bone-head! Do some thinking!

Blue pencil: censor.
e.g. The committee will blue pencil whatever you are going to say.

Hold one's horse: wait a minute; not immediately.
e.g. Dinner is ready, but hold your horse; wait for the host to come down!

In good nick: in good condition.
e.g. If I were you, I would buy this car; it's in good nick.

Boil over: become angry.
e.g.  Get away from him: he's boiling over with rage.

Put one's thinking cap on: seriously consider.
e.g. Well, I'll have to put my thinking cap on this before I can give you an answer.

Rake it in: earn money quickly.
e.g. If you invest in this, you can really rake it in.

Bone idle: very lazy.
e.g. She's bone idle: she never does any household chore.

Bone up on: study hard.
e.g. If you wish to pass your test, you'd better bone up on it.

Bowl over: overwhelm.
e.g. I was bowled over by all the information received at the seminar.

Pooped: exhausted.
e.g. What's the matter?  Everybody looks pooped today. We haven't even started the work!

Break down on: be a disadvantage for.
e.g. The new job broke down on me.

Breeze up: becoming frightened.
e.g. Whenever you mention terrorist attack, I have the breeze up.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Idioms and Slang

Hard stuff: whisky or any liquor.

e.g."Would you like a Coke?" "I'd prefer some hard stuff."

Make one's pile: make one's fortune.

e.g. Real estate is where he makes his pile.

Half-baked: silly.

e.g. What do you take me for? A fool half-baked!

Keep early hours: go to bed early.

e.g. If you want good health, keep early hours.

Go under: fail.

e.g. I am sorry to say that all your proposals have gone under.

Hook on to: attach oneself to.

e.g. Don't hook on to your computer all day.
Hook it: depart immediately.

e.g. Come on, hook it; our parents will be back soon.

Can't complain: okay.

e.g. "How are things going with you?" "Can't complain."

What gives?: what happened?

e.g. "Hey, guys, what gives?" "We just had an argument; now it's okay."
e.g. "Where's your purse? What gives?"

Heads up: look around; be careful.

Pooped: exhausted.

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

Hard at it: busy.

.e.g. "Are you working on the project?" "You bet! I'm hard at it."

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, April 12, 2019

The English Sentence

The English Sentence

In English, the number of sentences is infinite. However, within this infinity, there are FIVE patterns:

Subject + verb

e.g. An accident happened.
            (subject) (verb)

Subject + verb + object (direct)

e.g. The man took the money.
              (s)     (v)         (o)

Subject + verb + object (indirect) + object (direct)

e.g. The man give me the money.
               (s)   (v)   (o)       (o)

Subject + verb + complement (of the subject)

e.g. She is pretty.
       (s) (v) (c)

Subject + verb + object + complement (of the object) 

e.g. They elected him President.
       (s)     (v)       (o)   (c)

e.g. They made her unhappy.
       (s)     (v)     (o)  (c)

Sir Winston Churchill once said that the English sentence is a "noble thing." As such, in order to write an effective sentence, one must know what an English sentence is.

A sentence is for communicating a complete thought, a command, a question, or an exclamation.

    e.g. I love you.
    e.g. Take it.
    e.g. Is it right?
    e.g. How wonderful!

In most cases, a sentence requires at least one subject-verb combination (e.g. I came.); in some cases, a sentence can be a single word (e.g. Help!).

The basic sentence pattern or sentence structure is made up of a subject and a verb:

           Subject                 Verb
           Birds                     sing

But you can add single descriptive words (modifiers) to add more meaning to the basic sentence pattern. These words can be: an article (a, an, the); an adjective (a word to describe the noun or subject); an adverb (a word to describe the verb).

e.g. The (specify which birds) yellow birds (the color of the birds) sing beautifully. (how they sing)

You can add a phrase (made up of two or more words with no subject-verb combination) to make the sentence longer. There are different types of phrases:

1.    an infinitive phrase: to + verb e.g. to do the work, to play the piano
2. participle phrase: present participle/past participle + noun, e.g. playing the piano, the broken window
3.    prepositional phrase: under the table, in the beginning

You can add a clause (made up of words with a subject-verb combination) to make the sentence longer. There are two different types of clauses:

1.  an independent clause: communicating a complete thought, e.g. The man was singing.
2.   dependent clause: describing another clause, and not communicating a complete thought, e.g. When the man was singing (what happened?)

You can change sentences into different types by adding different clauses:

1. The simple sentence: one independent clause making one complete thought, e.g. The man was singing.
2. The compound sentence: more than one complete thought, with two or more independent clauses, e.g. The man was singing and the children were dancing.
3. The compl ex sentence: one independent clause with one or more dependent clauses, e.g. The man was singing (independent clause), when the children were dancing (dependent clause).
4.  The compound complex sentence: two independent clauses with one or more dependent clauses, e.g. The man was singing (independent clause) and the children were dancing (independent clause) when the light suddenly went out.

Effective writing is the use of different types of sentences (simple, compound, complex, compound complex) to give variety. In addition, vary the sentence length to avoid monotony in writing.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, April 8, 2019

Learning Vocabulary

Learning vocabulary may look daunting to you (you may not know the word daunting, but most probably you can still guess that it means something like "difficult"; that is how you learn a new work  by relating it to the context in a sentence), but you have to learn it cumulatively, that is, learning a few words every day. 

Corporal / Corporeal

Corporal means related to the body; corporeal means bodily and not spiritual.

e.g. Corporal punishment is no longer acceptable in schools.
e.g. We should be more concerned with our spiritual rather than our corporeal welfare.

Forbear / Forebear

Forbear means to tolerate, refrain from; forebear means an ancestor

e.g. You have to forbear from asking too many questions.
e.g.  He always takes pride in that Charles Dickens was his forebear.

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.

Everyday / Every day

Everyday is an adjective.

e.g. This is an everyday event.
e.g. This happens in every day.
e.g. Every day somebody is killed on the road.

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.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Effective Paragraph

The Effective Paragraph

A paragraph is made up of sentences, which develop the topic sentence. A good paragraph must have three basic qualities: coherence, flow, and development.

Paragraph coherence

A coherent paragraph must satisfy two criteria: 


Every idea you express in the paragraph must be related to the topic. 


Every idea you express in the paragraph must be arranged in a sequence according to logic and importance.

Paragraph flow

The sentences within each paragraph should be appropriately linked, such that each statement connects with the one or ones preceding it.

Linking successive sentences within a paragraph is achieved by the following:

Using a pronoun whose antecedent appears in the previous sentence

e.g. I bought myself an expensive watch for the occasion. It cost me over one thousand dollars.

Repeating a key word used in previous sentence or sentences

e.g. I bought myself an expensive watch for the occasion. That watch cost me over one thousand dollars.

Using a synonym

e.g. Women attach much importance to physical beauty. To many women, looks are everything.

Using word patterns, such as first, second, third

e.g. There were several reasons for the failure of the project. First, the preparation was inadequate. Second, there was insufficient money. Third, the timing was inappropriate.

Using transitional words, such as accordingly, afterwards, as a result, below, consequently, for example, furthermore, however, in fact, therefore, etc.

e.g. The student has set his goal to pass his test this time. Accordingly, he is working extra hard.

e.g. We did not have adequate preparation. As a result, we were unable to deal with many unforeseeable problems.

e.g. The castle stood at the top of the hill. Below stretched miles of beautiful scenery.

e.g. We made many mistakes in the preparation for the project. For example, we decided to complete the project in three weeks instead of in three months.

e.g. There was a severe thunderstorm. Consequently, many trees were blown down.

e.g. We did not have the fund for that expensive project. Furthermore, we lacked the expertise and the manpower to carry it out.

e.g. He did work very hard throughout the last semester; however, there was little improvement in his grades.

e.g. That project was expensive. In fact, it was the most expensive one that the company had ever undertaken .

e.g. No one volunteered to help the disabled in this facility. In other words, no one really cared.

In addition, there should be flow between paragraphs. The above can be applied accordingly to link paragraphs as a unity. 

Paragraph development

Paragraphs are about ideas, facts, and beliefs. A good paragraph must be adequately developed. In other words, every aspect of that topic has to be fully covered. There are different methods of developing your paragraphs: 


Definition is required of an abstraction, such as religious toleration, and democracy.

You need to define or explain certain terms or ideas that you think your readers may not understand. You can define by using synonyms, that is, explaining something abstract in different words, usually simpler words.


If your topic sentence is a general statement, you need to support your generalization with some concrete examples. Illustration shows that you are not talking through your hat and that you know your subject. 


If you think the idea is important, simply restate it. Repeating what you have just said in a slightly different way is an easy way of developing a paragraph. A word of  caution: make sure your sentences are not in the same structure, and the expression of the same idea is different:

You can say what is not the case, and then assert what is the case.

You can also make your restatement from a general to a more specific one by giving more details.

Comparison and contrast

In comparison and contrast, you are dealing with at least two topics with similarities, or differences, or both.

e.g. In many ways London and New York are alike. 

e.g. London is very different from New York in many respects.

e.g. Intelligence is not exactly the same as wisdom.

Use of analogy

Analogy is a special kind of comparison in which another topic is introduced to explain or justify the main subject.

You may use analogy to clarify an abstract or difficult statement previously made; you may also use analogy to persuade the readers. 

Causes and effects 

Paragraphs are about facts, ideas, and beliefs. Accordingly, you need to explain why something happened, or why it is true or false.

Within this framework, you may have to give examples, compare and contrast, and restate your ideas.

Paragraph length

In addition to the above, a good writer should also consider paragraph length as well as the number of paragraphs.

Paragraphs vary in length. Short paragraphs (one to three sentences) are used in journalism with the explicit purpose of reporting information without discussion, or in technical writing with the emphasis on presenting facts without analysis. Generally, avoid a series of very short paragraphs, which may suggest poor development of an idea. On the other hand, long paragraphs are often difficult for most readers. Always vary your paragraphs: a short one followed by several longer paragraphs. A one-sentence paragraph can be very effective to emphasize a point; however, do not overuse it.

How many paragraphs do you need? That depends on what you have to say and how much you have to say. Any piece of writing should have at least an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. The number of paragraphs you are going to give to each is at your discretion.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Learn Some Catch Phrases

Learn Some Catch Phrases

The English language is rich in catch phrases, which have caught on with the public. Learn some catch phrases to enrich your use of the language. 

There’s blood for breakfast: someone’s temper is very bad this morning.

e.g. Your Mom got off on the wrong side of the bed. So behave yourself: there’s blood for breakfast!

Mum's the word

Not a word of the pudding: say nothing about it; Mum’s the word! (don’t say a word; keep it a secret!).

e.g. It’s just between us; Mom’s the word!

And that’s that: that’s the end of the matter.

e.g. I’m not going, and that’s that! (i.e. the matter is closed; no more discussion)

Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do: giving a piece of good advice.

e.g. Bye now! And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do! (i.e. be good)

Go up one: excellent; good for you.

e.g. Good job! Well done! Go up one!

Not if you don’t: a responder to “do you mind?”—i.e. I do mind!

e.g. “Do you mind if I use yours?” “Not if you don’t!”

He thinks he holds it: conceited and vain.

e.g. I don’t like his attitude: he thinks he holds it.

Don’t I know it: how well I know it.

e.g. You don’t have to tell me! Don’t I know it!

Back to the kennel: go way (in a contemptuous way); get back into your box!

e.g. You’re annoying me! Get back into your box!

Don’t pick me up before I fall: don’t criticize prematurely.

e.g. I don’t want to hear a word from you. Don’t pick me up before I fall!

That’s playing it on the heart-strings: that’s being sentimental instead of realistic.

e.g. Falling head over heals for that girl is more like playing it on the heart-strings.

A snake in your pocket: reluctant to buy his friends a round of drinks or to pay the bill

e.g. Now it's your turn to foot the bill! Have you got a snake in your pocket or something?

Spare a rub: let me have some.

e.g. Don’t take everything: spare me a rub!

Every barber knows that: that’s common gossip.

e.g. That is no longer a secret: every barber knows that.

Easy as you know how: it’s easy—if you know how.

e.g. There is nothing to this: it’s easy as you know how!

I see, said the blind man: a humorous way of saying “I understand!”

e.g. You’re telling me! I see, said the blind man.

I’ll take a rain check: I’ll accept, another time, if I may.

e.g. “Come over to my place for a drink.” “Some other time; I’ll take a rain check.”

Where’s the fire?: what’s all the rush?

e.g. What’s the matter with you? Where’s the fire?

Nothing to do with the case: it’s a lie

e.g. What you're telling me has nothing to do with the case!

Where’s the body?: why look so sad?

e.g. That’s not the end of the world! Where’s the body?

You must hate yourself!: don’t be so conceited!

e.g. The way you talked to her just now—you must hate yourself for doing that.

Head I win—tail you lose: I’m in a win-win situation.

e.g. It’s mine! Head I win—tail you lose!

Like a red rag to a bull: something that provokes annoyance or anger.

e.g. His very presence was like a red rag to a bull—immediately she looked sullen and sulky.

It’ll all come out in the wash: It’ll be OK; it doesn’t really matter.

e.g. Don’t worry about these minor details; they’ll all come out in the wash!

It’s boloney: it’s utter nonsense.

e.g. To do this is in the wrong order is like putting the cart before the horse—it’s boloney!

A fiasco: a complete failure of organization or performance.

e.g. The government’s bailout of the banks was a fiasco.

Go west: die; fail

e.g. The last Vietnam veteran had gone west.
Let the cat out of the bag: give away a secret

e.g. If you tell him that, you are letting a cat out of the bag; he has a big mouth!
Hot from the mint: something “brand new” (mint is a place where money is coined).

e.g. The concept is innovative; it’s hot from the mint!

Straight from the horse’s mouth: first-hand news.

e.g. The story is very reliable—it’s straight from the horse’s mouth.
No second prize: used for someone making an unoriginal suggestion

e.g. I must say there’s no second prize for your proposal!

Stephen Lau