Your “prayers not answered” means your “expectations not fulfilled.” The TAO wisdom explains why: your attachments to careers, money, relationships, and success “make” but also “break” you by creating your flawed ego-self that demands your “expectations to be fulfilled.”

Monday, May 25, 2020

Expressions to Improve Your Daily Conversation

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.

e.g. Come on, make it snappy (i.e. be quick)

e.g. The performance is only so-so. (i.e. okay, but not too good)

e.g. Well, one day you'll tumble to that theory. (i.e. understand suddenly)

e.g. Now is the zero hour. (i.e. time to begin)

e.g. I say, you look poorly today. What's up? (i.e. look unwell)

e.g. Don't give me the small beer. Just tell me what happened. (i.e. unimportant details)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Misuse of the Semi-Colon

Misuse of the Semi-Colon

The 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 tiredhe 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 booksclothing, snacks, hammers and tools. (incorrect)

e.g. The box was filled with everything but booksclothing, 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 tremblingshe managed to pour the toxic liquid into the tube. (incorrect)

e.g. Her hands tremblingshe managed to pour the toxic liquid into the tube (a comma should be used instead)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Prepositional Phrases


Check out: leave; pay bills.

e.g. We are going to check out the hotel at noon.

Check up on: investigate.

e.g. The account will check up on the sum of money unaccounted for.


Run down
: hit with a vehicle

e.g. The old man was run down by the bus.

Run down: stop functioning

e.g. My lawn mower is running down; I need to get a new one.

Run into: meet by accident

e.g. Yesterday, I ran into an old friend that I had not seen for decades.

Run out of: not have any more of something

e.g. Hurry! We're running out of time!


Knuckle down: get busy doing something.

e.g. Come on! Knuckle down! We don’t have much time left.


Kiss off: kill (slang).

e.g. The man kissed off his rival with a gun.


Dance on air: be very happy.

e.g. When she heard the good news, she was dancing on air.

Dance to another tune: change one,s manner, act very differently.

e.g. What I,m going to tell you will make you dance to another tune.

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, May 22, 2020

Correct Use of Pronouns

Correct Use of Pronouns


A pronoun is a word that stands for a noun. Effective use of pronouns allows flexibility in writing.

e.g. Peter left for New York. He drove there in his new car.

e.g. I bought myself an expensive watch. It cost me one thousand dollars.

Relative pronouns (who, whom, which, that) introduce clauses that describe nouns or pronouns. These relative clauses can be restrictive (i.e. containing essential information), or non-restrictive (i.e. containing only additional but non-essential information).

Compare the following pairs of sentences:

e.g. The van that hit my dog was a mini van. (correct)

The relative clause above identifies the van, and therefore is essential to meaning of the sentence.

e.g. The van, which hit my dog, was a mini van.(incorrect)

The non-restrictive relative clause above provides only additional information. The use of a non-restrictive clause with the two commas further implies that it can be deleted; however, without which hit my dog, the sentence would not make much sense.

e.g. The reporter who took the photos is now being sued for invasion of privacy. (correct)

The relative clause above is restrictive because it identifies the reporter being sued.

e.g. The reporter, who took the photos, is now being sued for invasion of privacy. (correct)

The relative clause above becomes non-restrictive with the addition of two commas, and who took the photos becomes extra information non-essential to the meaning of the sentence. The sentence without the non-restrictive clause who took the photos would still make sense, and therefore is correct as it stands.

Knowing the difference between a restrictive and non-restrictive relative clause will help you in effective sentence construction.

Incorrect use of subjective pronouns is a common grammatical error.

e.g. My father and I went to see the show. (NOT me: both of us went to see the show)

e.g. It is I who made the decision. (NOT me: I made the decision.)

e.g. The real losers are we ourselves. (NOT us: we are the real losers.)

e.g. The man who called us was who? (NOT whom: who called us?)

e.g. The woman who killed her baby was she. (NOT her: she killed her baby.)

e.g. Peter and he went to the movie. (NOT him: both went to the movie.)

The correct use of pronouns can be difficult with certain expressions, such as, as and more than. The following pairs of sentences are correct, but the meaning is different.

e.g. She likes him more than I. (She likes him more than I like him.)

e.g. She likes him more than me. (She likes him more than she likes me.)

e.g. I like Peter better than she. (I like Peter better than she likes Peter.)

e.g. I like Peter better than her. (I like Peter better than I like her.)

Use possessive pronouns with gerunds (words ending in ing) correctly.

e.g. You don’t like my going to the fair by myself. (NOT me going: you don’t like the “going” not “me” the person.)

e.g. Your smirking irritates me. (NOT you smirking: not “you” but your “smirking” irritates me)

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent (the noun that a pronoun refers to).

e.g. All is well. (referring to the sum of all things)

e.g. All are well. (referring to a number of people)

e.g. Everyone wants to get his or her application submitted. (NOT their)
e.g. None of them is going to succeed. (NOT are: the subject is none)

e.g. Some is better than none. (referring to a quantity)

e.g. Some are good. (referring to a number of things)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Confusing Words


Could denotes potentiality; might suggests possibility.

e.g. Don't play with the knife; you might accidentally hurt yourself.
e.g. Could you close the window, please?

Accountable to / Accountable for

Accountable to means responsible to someone; accountable for means responsible for something or having to explain.

e.g. The Manager has to be accountable to the Board; he has to be accountable for all his business decisions.

Genteel / Gentle

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

e.g. Your friend is genteel. Is he really rich?
e.g. All along he has been living in genteel poverty. He is not practical.

Gentle:  soft and well-behaved.

e.g. He is a gentleman: he is especially gentle with the ladies.

Ingenious / 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.

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.

Words are neither effective nor ineffective; they just impart different meanings to the sentences in which they are used. It is the writer's effective use of words and phrases that makes sentences effective or ineffective.

The English language is made up of nearly a million words and phrases. A writer, especially one whose English is not his or her first language, may face two major problems in writing: not knowing "enough" words; and not knowing how to choose the "right" words. 

Writing is made up of words. Effective writing requires having a good stock of vocabulary, as well as selecting the most suitable words and phrases to express the intended ideas.

There are many English words and phrases that are frequently confused and misused by ESL learners. This book provides hundreds of those words and phrases with examples.

Stephen Lau     

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Learning Grammar Basics


An adjective describes a noun. Adjectives often give precision and meaning to sentences; in other words, they add color to your writing.

Beware: some words are both adjectives (describing nouns) and adverbs (modifying verbs).

e.g. This is hard work. (an adjective)
e.g. He works hard. (an adverb)

Linking verbs, such as bebecomelookseemsmelltaste, require the use of adjectives rather than adverbs.

e.g. He is happy.
e.g. She became angry. (NOT angrily)
e.g. He looked angrily at you. (it was the action expressed in the look)
e.g. The man looked angry. (it was the expression, not the action)
e.g. The cake smells wonderful. (NOT wonderfully)
e.g. The wine tastes good. (NOT well)


Conjunctions connect words, phrases, or clauses in sentences. They are coordinating or subordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions are and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet. They join two or more complete or independent sentences.

e.g. He likes coffee, and so do I (like coffee).
 e.g. He likes cheese, but I do not (like cheese).
e.g. (You ) work harder, or you will not succeed.
e.g. I don’t want to go, nor will I (go).
e.g. Summer is approaching, for the days are getting longer.
e.g. He worked hard, so he passed his exam with flying colors.
e.g. He worked hard, yet the result was far from satisfactory.

Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions join unequal elements in a sentence or clause that cannot stand alone.

e.g. When we arrived at the station, the train had left.
e.g. We will not succeed unless we get your support.
e.g. I will help you as long as you ask me.
e.g. I will help you whenever you ask me.
 e.g. I will help you provided (that) you ask me.
 e.g. I will help you if you ask me.
 e.g. Although I am your brother, I will not help you.
e.g. You will stay here till everything is done.
e.g. He behaved as though he were better than you.
e.g. Though he had lost his fortune, he remained cheerful.
e.g. Since spring is coming, we have to prepare the garden.
 e.g. Because spring is coming, we have to prepare the garden.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Choice of Words in Good Writing

As an ESL learner, pay attention to the words you use when you write. Be aware of your choice of words, especially as you begin to know more words.

Avoiding wordiness or unnecessary words

Do not use a phrase if a word will do:

e.g. Many students have a tendency to skim through the instructions on the test.

e.g. Many students tend to skim through the instructions on the test. (better)

e.g. I will show you the way in which to do it.

e.g. I will show you the way to do it. (better)

 e.g. I will show you how to do it. (better)

e.g. The Senate did not pass the bill due to the fact that it was unconstitutional.

 e.g. The Senate did not pass the bill because it was unconstitutional. (better)

e.g. You should take the advice given to you by your doctor.

e.g. You should take your doctor’s advice. (better)

e.g. I was supportive of your decision.

 e.g. I supported your decision. (better)

e.g. The man conducted himself with irrational behavior.

 e.g. The man behaved irrationally. (better)

Do not say the obvious:

e.g. Her hat was red in color.

e.g. Her hat was red. (better)

e.g. The basketball player was tall in height.

e.g. The basketball player was tall. (better)

Avoid unnecessary adjectives, nouns, or adverbs:

e.g. These are vital essentials of life.

e.g. These are essentials of life. (better)

e.g. Do not question his technique employed.

e.g. Do not question his technique. (better)

e.g. There is too much danger involved.

e.g. There is too much danger. (better)

e.g. The Congress would make decisions about changing the Constitution.

e.g. The Congress would decide on changing the Constitution. (better)

e.g. You committed an act of violence.

e.g. You committed violence. (better)

e.g. It took a long period of time.

e.g. It took a long time. (better)

e.g. It was clearly evident that he took the money.

e.g. It was evident that he took the money. (better)

e.g. Evidently, he took the money. (better)

Avoid constructions with it is … and there are …:

e.g. It is truth that will prevail.

e.g. Truth will prevail. (better)

e.g. There were many people inside the cinema when the bomb exploded.

e.g. Many people were inside the cinema when the bomb exploded. (better)

However, it is and there are may have their legitimate uses in emphasizing an idea.

e.g. It is the truth that we are seeking, not the myth.

e.g. Fortunately, there were only two persons inside the cinema when the bomb exploded.

Avoid excess use of abstract nouns:

e.g. The effectiveness of writing requires an element of conciseness.

e.g. Effective writing requires conciseness. (better)

Avoid flowery or high-sounding language:

e.g. now NOT at this point in time

e.g. nowadays NOT in this day and age

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau