Thursday, July 19, 2018

Prepositional Words and Phrases

A prepositional phrase is a combination of a verb with a preposition. Such a combination may give different meanings to the same verb with different prepositions. For example, the verb “argue” may result in different meanings with different prepositions:  

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?


Appeal against: ask a court to cancel something.

e.g. The lawyer appealed against the court’s decision.

Appeal for: demand as a right.

e.g. I think we should appeal for justice.

e.g. They are appealing for our help.

Appeal to: attract or please someone.

e.g. The proposal appealed to many of us.

e.g. Her personality appeals to everybody around her.

e.g. Does this food appeal to your taste?

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Essentials of Good Writing

Good writing means trying to avoid the overuse of clich├ęs (overused catch phrases and figures of speech)

e.g. busy NOT busy as a bee

e.g. confront the truth NOT face the music

e.g. everyone NOT each and every one

e.g. finally NOT last but not the least

e.g. firstly NOT first and foremost

e.g. gentle NOT gentle as a lamb

e.g. infrequent or seldom NOT few and far between

e.g. obviously NOT it goes without saying

e.g. seldom NOT once in a blue moon

Avoid weakling modifiers. Most of the following weakling modifiers can be removed without changing the meaning of a sentence:

e.g. actually

e.g. both

e.g. certainly

e.g. comparatively

e.g. definitely

e.g. herselfhimselfitselfthemselves

e.g. needless to say

e.g. particularly

e.g. per se

e.g. really

e.g. relatively

e.g. very

To use these weakling modifiers occasionally is permissible, but to use them frequently makes your writing ineffective.

Figures of speech add life and vividness to writing. Figures of speech compare one thing abstract with another thing, which is usually literal or concrete.

Metaphors are implied comparisons.

e.g. After listening to the speech of the senator, I was a volcano within although I was still calm without.

e.g. He is a hog at mealtime.


Similes are direct comparisons to bring out the imagination of the readers.

e.g. After listening to the speech of the senator, I was like a volcano about to erupt although I was still calm on the outside.

e.g. He eats like a hog.

Similes always use words as or like.

Stephen Lau
Copyright©2018 by Stephen Lau

Monday, July 16, 2018

American Idioms

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

After all: in spite of everything
e.g. She didn’t get a good score; after all, it was her first attempt

Late in life: in old age
e.g. It was only late in life that he became a famous writer.

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

Thursday, July 12, 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

Monday, July 9, 2018

Learn Some Colloquial Expressions


 What gives?: what's wrong? what's the problem?

e.g. "You were screaming at each other. What gives?"

Not for love nor money: absolutely not; no way.

e.g. "Can you tell her the bad news?" "Not for love nor money."

In a nutshell: in summary

e.g. "We're having serious financial and relationship problems." "In a nutshell, you want to divorce your wife?"

What's your point?: be brief.

e.g. "I don't know what you're rambling about (talking without a definite purpose). What's your point?"

What would you say if: asking for an opinion; what about?

e.g. "I heard you were recently offered a job." "What would you say if I decline the offer?"

It could have been worse: accept an apology.

e.g. "I'm sorry I broke your glass." "It could have been worse."

Keep one's shirt on: calm down; don't get too excited.

e.g. "Cool off! Keep your shirt on. This is not the end of the world."

Worst-case scenario: worst consequence

e.g.  A blizzard is coming. The worst-case scenario is that all public transport will be suspended.

Yesterday wouldn't be too soon: as soon as possible.

e.g. "When do you want me to give this to you?" "Yesterday wouldn't be too soon!"

You ain't seen nothing yet: the best is yet to come.

e.g. "The soup was excellent." "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

You could have fooled me: I would have thought otherwise.

e.g. "We're not getting along well; we've too many differences." "You could have fooled me! I thought the two of you are cut out for each other."

As I see it: I think.

e.g. As I see it, the cold weather is going to stay for some time.

I am like you: we share the same opinion.

e.g. "I don't like cheese in my food." "I am like you: cheese makes me feel sick."

I spoke too soon: spoke without getting all the facts.

e.g. "You were wrong about that." "I'm sorry. Maybe I spoke too soon."

You don't know the half of it: it is worse than what you think.

e.g. "The company is having some financial problems." "You don't know the half of it. I tell you what; it might even go bankrupt."

Get right on it: do it immediately.

e.g. "Can you help me with this software?" "I'll get right on it."

You said a mouthful: you said what needs to be said.

e.g. "The movie was disappointing: the story was uninteresting; the acting was bad; and it was too long." "Yes, you said a mouthful!"

 Stephen Lau
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Know Grammar Terms



There are eight parts of speech in the English language: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections

(1) Nouns are names of things (book, chair, pen), people (boy, David, policeman)

(2) Pronouns stand for nouns: I (me); we (us); he (him); she (her); it (it); they (them); who (whom). The words in brackets are object pronouns.

e.g. I like him.
e.g. We like it.
e.g. He likes her.
e.g. She likes him.
e.g. It likes them.
e.g. They like it.     
e.g. Who likes it?
e.g. Whom do you like?

(3) Verbs are words that show being:

e.g. I am a student.
e.g. You are happy.
e.g. He is poor.
e.g. We are doctors.
e.g. They are nurses.

Verbs are also words that describe an action:

e.g. I love you.
e.g. You go away!
e.g. She cries a lot.
e.g. We sleep at night.
e.g. They work in the office.

Some verbs are transitive: they need an object; some verbs are intransitive: they do not need an object; some verbs are both transitive and intransitive.

e.g. Please bring a chair. (transitive)
e.g. The sun rises. (intransitive)
e.g. He sings a song. (transitive)
e.g. He sings every morning. (intransitive)

(4) Adjectives describe nouns: e.g. a heavy chair; e.g. a pretty dress; e.g. You are happy.

(5) Adverbs describe verbs or adjectives: e.g. He eats slowly. e.g. You look very pretty.

(6) Prepositions are words that show the relationship between words.

e.g. I depend on you.
e.g. Give this to him.
e.g. We live in the United States.
e.g. They go with you.

(7) Conjunctions are words that are used to join sentences: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet.

e.g. Get up and go to bed.
e.g. You like him, but he does not like you.
e.g. Put it here, or put it there.
e.g. I do not eat this, nor do I drink that.
e.g. You can stay, for it is raining.
e.g. I am tired, so I lie down.
e.g. You are tired, yet you do not want to go to bed.

(8) Interjections are words used to express different levels of emotions, such as surprise: e.g. Wow! My goodness!

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, July 2, 2018

English Slang

English Slang

For a song: very cheaply.
e.g. I got that piece of antique for a song.

Tall story: exaggerated story
e.g. No one would believe your tall story.

French leave: leave without permission.
e.g. My boss found out I took my French leave yesterday to pick you up from the airport.

There are no flies on: very alert and sharp.
e.g. Don't try to trick him; there are no flies on him.

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

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

Till the cow comes home: never; indefinitely.
e.g. "When do you think he will find a job?" "Till the cow comes home."

Up and coming: making a reputation.
e.g. This candidate is up and coming in the presidential election.

The ticket: the right thing to do.
e.g. Perseverance is the ticket to success in any endeavor.

Say-so: permission.
e.g. Do I have your say-so to launch the project?

See with half an eye: see easily.
e.g. The mistake is so obvious: you can see it with half an eye.

For keeps: permanently.
e.g. I think the temporary assistant may be here for keeps.

Saw you coming: realized your ignorance.
e.g. You gave him the money right away without asking any question; he saw you coming!

Fork out: pay
e.g. Well, everybody has to fork out $30 for the farewell present to the boss.

That's a big one: a lie.
e.g. That was a big one. Do you expect me to believe it?

Stephen Lau
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau