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

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Correct Use of Verbs

Correct Use of Verbs

Effective writing means a good understanding of the correct use of verbs, especially with respect to tenses.

Verbs govern person as well as number (whether the verb is singular or plural in form).

Person refers to the person or the thing that is a subject or an object.

First person refers to I and we, with me and us as the object, respectively.

e.g. I go. (subject)

e.g. We go.(subject)

e.g. They speak to me. (object)

e.g. They speak to us. (object)

Second person refers to you with you as the object.

e.g. You go. (subject)

e.g. They speak to you. (object)

Third person refers to he, she, it, and they, with him, her, it, and them as the object, respectively.

e.g. He goes.

e.g. She goes.

e.g. It goes.

e.g. They go.

e.g. They speak to him. (object)

e.g. They speak to her. (object)

e.g. They speak to it. (object)

e.g. They speak to them. (object)

Verbs affect the moods or attitudes of the writer. Verbs have three moods:

Indicative mood indicates a statement or a question.

e.g. He loves to paint.

e.g. Do you believe in God?

Imperative mood indicates making a request or command.

e.g. Please tell me the truth. (The subject “you” is understood.)

e.g. Go out! (The subject “you” is understood.)

Subjunctive mood indicates making a hypothetical statement (i.e. not true).

e.g. If I were you, I would do it. (Past tense for a present action to indicate something contrary to the fact)

e.g. If he were the president, he would do it. (He is not the president, and therefore he will not do it.)

e.g. If you worked hard now, you would pass the exam. (You are not working hard now, and so you will not pass the exam; it is merely an assumption. Compare: “If you work hard, you will pass the exam.” Here, it becomes a condition, and therefore there is a probability that you will pass the exam.)

e.g. If pigs had wings, they would fly. (Pigs do not have wings, and therefore they will never fly.)

Subjunctive mood can also be used in the past tense. In that case, the past perfect tense (instead of the past tense) is used to show the hypothetical statement in the past.

e.g. If he had been the president, he would have done it. (He was not the president, and so he did not do it.)

e.g. If you had worked hard last year, you would have passed the exam. (You did not work hard last year, and so you failed in the exam last year.)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Learning English Resources

American Idioms

First and foremost: first of all
e.g. To lose weight, you must, first and foremost, stop eating junk food.

Bad sort: an unpleasant person
e.g. He is a bad sort; nobody likes him.

Not born yesterday: not young or foolish.
e.g. Don't give me all that crap! I wasn't born yesterday.

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

In bad sorts: in a bad humor
e.g. What’s the matter with you? You seem to be in bad sorts. Is it the weather or something else?

Sit tight: wait patiently
e.g. Just relax and sit tight!

Skeleton in the closet: a hidden and shocking secret
e.g. That he was a gay was skeleton in the closet.

Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Shoot off: depart quickly.
e.g. You'd better shoot off before the storm comes.

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.

Go down with: be accepted or approved by.
e.g. The President's speech went down with the Spanish community.

Alive and kicking: in good health.
"How is she doing?" "Very much alive and kicking."

Choice of Words

Endure / Persevere

Endure means to bear bravely; persevere means to keep on doing.

e.g. It is not easy to endure the physical pain.
e.g. In spite of all the difficulties, he persevered with his plans.

Exhausting / Exhaustive
Exhausting means making one very tired; exhaustive means very thorough, covering a lot.

e.g. To remove all the books from this room is exhausting work.
e.g. This is an exhaustive inquiry, covering every aspect of what happened.

Baleful / Baneful
Baleful means evil; baneful means harmful.

e.g. I don't like your friend, especially the baleful looks on his eyes. 
e.g. Don't drink too much alcohol; beware of its long-term baneful effect on your health.

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.

Prepositional Words and Phrases


Head off: intercept or divert someone or something.

e.g. I think we can head off the problem this time.
e.g. Don't worry. We can head it off with another new project

Head out: begin a journey.

e.g. What time do we head out tomorrow morning?

Head up: be in charge of something.

e.g. I think I shall head up the committee soon.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Learning and Mastering English

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

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, 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