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, July 27, 2018

Choosing the Right Words

In English, there are many words which look similar, but they are different in meaning:


Studio: a place where pictures are taken, or films are made.

e.g. The film was made in a Hollywood studio.

Studious: fond of study; careful and thoughtful.

e.g. To be a good scientist, you must be studious.


Mellow: mature; soft and pure; rich and full.

e.g. As he continues to age, he become more mellow and compassionate.

Melodious: tuneful; pleasant to the ear.

e.g. He voice is melodious; he should take up singing.


Spoiled (the past tense or past participle of spoil) means lay waste, rob; spoilt means mar or ruin.

e.g. Your car accident spoiled my vacation.

e.g. You are a spoilt child!


Genteel: well-bred, polite; imitating the lifestyle of the rich.

e.g. Your friend is genteel. Is he very rich?

e.g. All along he has been living in genteel poverty. He is not practical.

Gentle: kind, friendly, mild.

e.g. Be gentle to my puppy.


Disposable: cant be removed or got rid of.

e.g. This machine is disposable; we can do without it

Indisposed: not feeling well; unwilling to

e.g. You look indisposed. Is there something wrong with you?

e.g. Many people are indisposed to working on weekends.


Recourse means turning to others or something for help; resort means to turn to for help (both noun and verb).

e.g. His only recourse was the police.

e.g. The police should not resort to violence to stop the peaceful demonstration.

e.g. The army decided using violence as the last resort.


Terminable: can be ended.

e.g. Your employment is only temporary and terminable at any time.

Terminal: at the end.

e.g. The doctor told him that he had terminal cancer.


Decorative: having an artistic or showy effect.
e.g. The ballroom with all the ribbons and flowers are very decorative.

Decorous: showing good taste.

e.g. The Princess looks decorous in that simple but beautiful dress.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau

Monday, July 23, 2018

English Tenses

English tenses may be challenging to ESL learners because some learners may not have tenses in their own native language; for example, the Chinese language uses adverbs (e.g. "today," "yesterday," "tomorrow") to indicate the time element or sequence without changing the verbs (i.e. the tenses).

In English, the Present Tense is used when something is factual; that is, it is true all the time.

e.g. She is my daughter (a fact that is true all the time).
e.g. He likes hamburgers (a fact that is true as of now, though it may change in the future).

e.g. He used to like hamburgers (he liked hamburgers in the past, but he no longer likes them)
e.g. He liked hamburgers (a fact that was true in the past; the focus is not on the present).

The Present Continuous Tense is used to indicate that an action is going on or continuing at the present moment.

e.g. You are reading my blog page on the Present Tense and the Present Continuous Tense.

If you say "the actor is singing beautifully (the use of the Present Continuous Tense)," you are referring to "what the actor is doing right now -- singing beautifully." But you can also say "the actor sings beautifully" when you are referring not just to "what he is doing right now -- singing beautifully" but also to the fact that "the actor is always a good singer." See, you can use both the Present Tense and the Present Continuous Tense; it all depends on what you are referring to.

There is another use of the Present Continuous Tense: to indicate an action or event that will definitely take place very soon.

e.g. He is coming back soon (an event that is definite and will happen very soon).e.g. He will come (the Future Tense) back next week (a mere statement of a future event).

To sum up, you use the Present Tense for what is true or factual all the time, or at least for a certain period of time. Other than that, it is more appropriate to use the Present Continuous Tense for a present event or an action that will happen soon.

To learn more tenses in greater detail, go to Effective Writing Made Simple.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Knowing How to Begin Writing

Knowing How to Begin Writing

When you begin to write, beware of two extremes: doing too little, or doing too much.

On the one hand, if you write too little in the beginning paragraphs, you may give the impression that you are too eager to jump into the subject without giving your readers time to reflect on what you have prepared for them.

On the other hand, if you write too much in the beginning paragraphs, you may give the impression that you are summarizing the subject. Your readers may think that they already know what you are going to say to them, and hence they may not wish to go on reading.

An effective beginning needs to accomplish the following:

Capture the readers’ attention by stressing the importance of the subject, arousing the readers’ curiosity, or entertaining the readers.

Introduce the subject appropriately to the readers through the use of relevant lead-ins:

A famous quotation alluding to your topic
A factual statement with statistics and examples supporting your topic
A short description or story with emotional appeal
A personal experience related to your topic
A controversial question or a paradoxical statement about your topic
An analogy or comparison relevant to your topic
A statement of problems leading to your topic

Provide adequate details to create anticipation in the readers’ minds.

Beginning to Write

To begin writing, initiate the writing process in three basic steps:

Think about the topic, or what you are going to write about.

Write it. Put down any idea that comes to your mind.

Write it again, revise, and re-write it.

Both drafting and revising are creative processes in writing. Drafting is more spontaneous, while revising is more thoughtful and critical. When you write, you see words from your point of view; when you revise, you see words from the readers’ point of view.

Points to remember during revision:

Read slowly: this forces you to focus your attention on each word.

Read aloud: this not only slows down your reading but also contributes to objectivity to your writing.

Look for choice of words, sentence construction, and paragraph structure.

Be alert for errors in grammar and usage, as well as in spelling and typing.

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Prepositional Words and Phrases


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.


Face into: turn something or someone towards certain direction.
e.g. Please face into the camera; they want to take a picture of you.

Face off:  prepare for a confrontation.
e.g. The two candidates are going to face off in a debate.


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?


Ask back: invite someone to come again.
e.g. Because of your rudeness, they will never ask you back.

Ask for: request for someone or something.
e.g. The policeman is asking for you.

Ask of: ask of something from someone.
e.g. I want to ask a favor of you.

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Confusing Words

Writing is made up of words. The first requirement of writing English is to learn some English words every day to build up your vocabulary -- you may have to know at least a few thousand words before you can write effectively.

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. 

Advance / Advancement

Advance, as a verb, means going forward or making progress; advancement means promotion.

e.g. With the advance of winter, days are growing shorter.

e.g. To seek advancement in your career, you need to work extra hard or get a higher qualification.

Observable / Observant

Observable: can be seen or noticed; observant: quick to pay attention.

e.g. The solution to the problem is observable to many scientists.

e.g. To be a good scientist, you must be observant of all the relevant details and data.

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.

Pretense Pretension

Pretense is to make believe; pretension is a claim

e.g. She makes no pretense to like her mother-in-law. (She does not pretend that she likess her mother-in-law)

e.g. He made no pretension to that award. (He never claimed that he received that award)
All / All of

All is used for amount, quantity, distance, and length of time.

e.g. all the money, all the way, all day, all night,

All of is used when a simple pronoun follows.

e.g. all of it, all of you, all of us.

All and all of may be used when it refers to number.

e.g. All or all of the employees are satisfied with the new policy.

e.g. All or all of the children in the family have gone to college.

 / Ingenuous

Ingenious is clever; ingenuous is natural, free from deceit.

e.g. I must say that was an ingenious way to fund the project.

e.g. The Mayor's response to the questions from the reporter was sincere and ingenuous.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Correct Use of Prepositional Words and Phrases


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 these matters before we see your parents.


Knock one’s head against a brick wall: become very frustrated.

e.g. Throughout his career, he had knocked his head against a brick wall several times.

Knock back a drink: consume a drink.

e.g. She decided to knock back a brandy in front of her parents.


Tail after: follow (colloquial).

e.g. You always tail after her wherever she goes.

Tail off: decrease and dwindle to nothing.

e.g. The unemployment rate is now beginning to tail off.


Mess around: waste time (colloquial).

e.g. Don’t just mess around! Can you lend me a hand?

Mess around with: experiment with something to find out more.

e.g. They have been messing around with this project to see if it is really beneficial to the public.

Mess over: treat someone badly.

e.g. The woman messed over the poor kid until he was finally hospitalized.

Mess up: make untidy; interfere or make it bad.

e.g. She spilled her soup, and messed up her beautiful dress.

e.g. His drug addiction messed up his life.

Stephen Lau
Copyright©2018 by Stephen Lau

Monday, July 16, 2018

Correct Use of Semicolon

Semicolon is one of the punctuation marks frequently misused in writing.

A semicolon is used between a dependent clause and an independent clause.

e.g. Although he was very tired; he did not want to go to bed. (incorrect)
e.g. Although he was very tired, he did not want to got to bed. (a comma should be used instead)

A semicolon is used to introduce a list.

e.g. The box was filled with everything but books; clothing, snacks, hammers and tools. (incorrect)
e.g. The box was filled with everything but books: clothing, snacks, hammers and tools. (a colon should be used instead)

A semicolon is not used between an introductory phrase and the rest of the sentence.

e.g. Her hands trembling; she managed to pour the toxic liquid into the tube. (incorrect)
e.g. Her hands trembling, she managed to pour the toxic liquid into the tube (a comma should be used instead)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Learning Idioms

Idioms are words and phrases in a language that have come into existence for a variety of reasons, some obvious enough, some inexplicable, but most of them appropriately and delightfully characteristic of the race that created them. American idioms are no exception; they reflect American culture at every social level. They are used in everyday life, in speaking and in writing, in movies and on television, and by people from all walks of life. Some of them may be unfamiliar even to some Americans, especially ESL (English as a Second Language) learners.

In this book, there are approximately nine-hundred American idioms selected for ESL learners to provide them with a better understanding of American English. Learn them so that you may know what they mean when they are used by Americans, and use them in their right context in your speaking and writing in your daily contacts with Americans.

Each American idiom comes with a simple explanation followed by one or more examples, showing you how to use it. Make an effort to learn ten American idioms a day, and then review what you have learned over the weekend. Then proceed to learning another ten, and so on and so forth. You may not remember all the American idioms that you have learned, but, rest assured, they will come back to you when you hear them in your social contacts with Americans.

Learning American idioms is as important as learning the vocabulary, the sentence structure, and the grammar usage of American English. If you plan to stay in the United States, learning American idioms is a must.

For example: 

Take to one’s heels: run away
e.g. Before the police could come, the thief took to his heels.

Feel like: have a desire for something
e.g. I feel like eating a hamburger.

Under a cloud: under suspicion
e.g. He has been under a cloud; the police has been investigating him for some time.

Stephen Lau

Monday, July 9, 2018

Use of Prepositions


Prepositional Words and Phrases for ESL Learners

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.

Prepositional words and phrases are difficult, especially for ESL learners, because different prepositions may impart different meanings to the prepositional words and phrases. Even the same preposition may have different meanings to the same verb.
Break in: enter without permission; interrupt; train; get used to something new.

e.g. A burglar attempted to break in last night but without success.
e.g. Don’t break in while someone is talking; it’s rude!
e.g. The manager has to break the new employees in so that they may know what to
e.g. You should break your new car in before you drive on the highway.

This book has hundreds of prepositional words and phrases with explanations and examples, just like the ones illustrated above, for you reference. Improve your English with your mastery of prepositional words and phrases.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau