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, December 19, 2017

Singular Or Plural

Singular or Plural

The following sentences are correct, and they illustrate the uses of singular or plural verbs in some common expressions:

e.g. Fifty dollars is a lot of money to me (amount).

e.g. Two weeks of vacation is not enough (time).

e.g. One of the tables was badly damaged in the storm.

e.g. All coming and going after midnight is not allowed (a single idea).

e.g. A number of books were checked out (many).

e.g. The number of students present was great (the figure).

e.g. The greater part of the land was cultivated.

e.g. The greater part of the oranges were bad.

e.g. More than one student was involved.

e.g. Screaming and shouting was heard even inside the house. (a single idea)

Majority is often confusing: it efers to number, not to the amount or quantity.

e.g. The majority of the people were women. (correct)

e.g. The majority of the eggs were bad. (correct)

e.g. The majority of the butter was bad. (incorrect)

e.g. Most of the butter was bad. (correct)

Compare the following:

e.g. The majority of children like sweets. (some do not like)

e.g. Most children like sweets. (children in general like sweets)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, December 18, 2017

English Idioms

Death on someone or something: harmful to
e.g. This road is so rough that it’s death on car tires.

Out on a limb: in a dangerous or risky position
e.g. If you go against my better judgment, you will be out on a limb.

Dog in the manger: a very selfish person
e.g. Don’t be a dog in the manger! You no longer need this; why don’t you give it to us?

Trump up: make up something untrue
e.g. The witness trumped up an excuse why he lied previously.

Poke one’s nose into something: interfere with
e.g. I don’t like the way you poke your nose into my affairs.

Run in the family: a characteristic in all members of a family
e.g. Longevity runs in the family: they all live to a ripe old age.

Above all: most importantly
e.g. Above all, you must have a valid visa if you wish to continue to stay in the United States.

Have it coming: deserve what one gets
e.g. Failure was unavoidable. What you did had it coming.

A little bird told me: somehow I knew
e.g. “How did you know what I did?” “Well, a little bird told me.”

Tie up: engage or occupy in doing something
e.g. He was tied up at the meeting, and could not come to the phone.

All at sea: confused
e.g. The lawyer was all at sea when he read the two conflicting reports of the incident.

As flat as a pancake: very flat
e.g. You left front wheel tires is as flat as a pancake.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Use These Words Correctly

Fragile / Frail

Fragile: delicate, easily broken; frail: weak in health; without strong support.

e.g. This piece of glassware is fragile; please handle it with care.
e.g. You look pale and frail today. What's wrong with you?
e.g. The presidential candidate received frail support from his own State.

High / Highly

High: referring to altitude or position; highly: the degree or intensity. 

e.g. The airplane is flying high.
e.g. This disease is highly contagious.

Portend / Portent

Portend: foretell or forewarn; portent: self-importance.

e.g. This political decision may portend more trouble in the coming election.
e.g. The arrogant demeanor reflects the portent of the candidate.

Genteel / Gentle

Genteel: trying to be polite, and imitating good manners; gentle: kind, friendly.

e.g. He is living in genteel poverty (i.e. he is living a lifestyle that imitates that of the rich).
e.g. She is gentle in nature, and people like her.

Exhausting / Exhaustive

Exhausting: using much energy; exhaustive: very thorough or complete.

e.g. The exhausting work of working in the garden made me want to go to bed right away.
e.g. The police conducted an exhaustive investigation into this crime.

Observance / Observation

Observance: following rules and regulations; observation: seeing or paying attention to.

e.g. Tell me about your observation of the future of this company.
e.g. What do you think of the observance of the law on texting while driving?

Precede / Proceed

Precede: come or go before in time or place; proceed: go forward.

e.g. Soaking the beans overnight should precede the cooking.
e.g. We decided to proceed with the plan, even without the funding.

Half-blood / Half-breed

Half-blood: a person having one parent in common with another; half-breed: a person whose parents are of different races.

e.g. He is my half-blood: we have the same mother.
e.g. My girlfriend is a half-breed: her father is Danish, and her mother is Chinese.

Overall / Total

Overall: describing a measurement between two extremities, from one end to the other; total: complete;

e.g  What is the overall length of the bridge?
e.g. The project was a total success (not overall) 

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, December 16, 2017

American Slang

 Not in the same street: not in the same class or category.
e.g. Of course, my car in not in the same street as yours: you paid a lot more.

Look alive: hurry up.
e.g. Look alive! We don't want to miss our flight.

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

Gray matter: brains.
e.g. To solve this complex problem, you need gray matter, which you don;t have. 

Make it snappy: be quick.
e.g. Common on, make it snappy! We don't have all the time in the world!

Ark: an old car.
e.g. Why don't you get rid of your ark, and get a new one?

Half-inch: steal.
e.g. Where did you get it from? You didn't half-inch it, did you?

Gift of the gab: ability to give effective speeches.
e.g. The new Mayor has the gift of the gab: people like listening to him.

Hang out: reveal everything.
e.g. I want the truth, and nothing but the truth. Let it all hang out!

Go round: be enough for all.
e.g. Do you think we've enough drinks to go round at the party tonight?

Give the lie to: contradict; prove something is false.
e.g. I have to give the lie to what you just said: I did not take your money.

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Learning a language takes time and effort, especially if it is not your first language. Even if it is your mother tongue, you still need time and effort to master it because almost every language has its own slang and colloquial expressions, and the English language is no exception.

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.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Words Easily Confused

Pundit: a scholar; a learned person.
e.g. My neighbor is a pundit he seems to know everything.
Punt: a flat-bottomed boar, moved by a long pole.
e.g. In Venice, people move around in punts.
Light: (as a verb) come across; happen to find.
e.g. I lighted upon a very interesting book in the library.
Lighten (as a verb) brighten up; make something less heavy.
e.g. Can you lighten the dark corridor?
e.g. Your financial support lightened my burden.
Neural: having to do with brain cells or nervous system.
e.g. My brother is a neural scientist.
Neutral: not helping or taking any side.
e.g. He remained neutral in this controversial issue.
Contrary: the exact opposite
e.g. You think I did not help him. On the contrary, I did everything I could to help him.
Contrast: comparison.
e.g. Contrast may make you see things very differently
Portend: foretell.
e.g. These minor quakes might portend a big earthquake in the near future.
Portent: a sign or warning; a marvelous thing in the future.
e.g. A bright future is your portent.
Contribution: donation; an act of helping and supporting.
e.g. Thank you for your contribution to the project.
Contrition: sincere sorrow for sin.
e.g. The convicted criminal showed contrition when he apologized to the family of the victim.
Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Prepositional Words and Phrases

Argue about: dispute or quarrel with someone over.
e.g. They often argue about racial injustice over the dinner table.

Argue against: make a case against someone or something.
e.g. The police discovered new evidence that argued against the criminal charge.

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.

Therefore, learn more prepositional phrases and find out how they are different in meaning with different prepositions.


Talk back: answer impolitely.
e.g. It's rude to talk back to your parents like that.

Talk over: discuss.
e.g. We'll talk over the matter before we see your parents.


Back down: retreat from a position in an argument.
e.g. Knowing that he did not have a valid point, he backed down.

Back out: desert; fail to keep a promise.
e.g. You said you would help us, but you backed out.

Back out of: fail to keep a promise.
e.g. We cannot back out of the contract; we are legally obligated to do what we are supposed to do.

Back up: support
e.g. Are you going to back me up if I decide to go ahead with the project?


Touch on: mention briefly.
e.g. The professor barely touched on the subject of Civil War.

Touch up: repair.
e.g. Can you touch up the scratches on the door?

Prepositions are words that indicate the relationships between various elements within a sentence. In formal English, prepositions are almost always followed by objects.

e.g. The policeman shot (verb) the man (object) with (preposition identifying the man being shot) a knife.

e.g. I put (verb) the pen (direct object) on (preposition indicating the position of the pen) the table (indirect object).

e.g. I put (verb) the pen (direct object) under (preposition indicating the position of the pen) the table (indirect object).

Prepositional phrases always consist of the object and the preposition. Prepositional phrases can act as adjectives or adverbs. When they are used as adjectives, they modify nouns and pronouns in the same way single-word adjectives do. When prepositional phrases are used as adverbs, they also act in the same way single-word adverbs and adverb clauses do, modifying adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs.

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

American Idioms

Mind one’s p’s and q’s: pay attention to one’s manners
e.g. When you meet the President, you must mind your p’s and q’s.

Go through the roof: very angry
e.g. When he found out that you took his money, he went through the roof.

That’s the ticket: what is needed
e.g. That’s the ticket! If you do as I tell you, you will succeed.

Run in the family: a characteristic in all members of a family
e.g. Longevity runs in the family: they all live to a ripe old age.

All at sea: confused
e.g. The lawyer was all at sea when he read the two conflicting reports of the incident.

Handwriting on the wall: a warning
e.g. If the Governor had seen the handwriting on the wall, he would not have adopted those unpopular proposals.

Go through the roof: very angry
e.g. When he found out that you took his money, he went through the roof.

Fork out: pay
e.g. I like this computer, but I don’t want to fork out a lot of money.

Odd man out: atypical person or thing
e.g. Everybody has a partner, and you are an odd man out because you don’t have one.

Take the bull by the horns: deal with the challenge directly
e.g. This is a very difficult situation, but we must take the bull by the horns.

That’s the ticket: what is needed
e.g. That’s the ticket! If you do as I tell you, you will succeed.

Rule the roost: be the boss
e.g. Who rules the roost at your house?

Then and there: on the spot
e.g. As soon as the candidate finished his speech, he was shot then and there.

Dance to another tune: change to a different attitude or behavior
e.g. If your parents were here, you would dance to another tune.

In nothing flat: in exactly no time at all
e.g. Don’t worry! I’ll get you to the airport in nothing flat.

Make a stab at: try to do something
e.g. I knew you would make a stab at finishing the project.

Ins and outs of something: details to do something right
e.g. Take your time; you need to know the ins and outs of this procedure in order to do it right.

Has had its day: no longer popular
e.g. This bulky lawn mower has had its day. We need to get a new one.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau