Wednesday, November 15, 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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Words Easily Confused

To be proficient in a language, you must know its basic vocabulary, its common idioms and everyday expressions. To write well, your choice of words is important. There are many English words that are frequently confused and misused, especially by ESL learners:

Fewer is used for items that can be counted; less is used for items that cannot be counted.

e.g. Fewer people came to the meeting today than yesterday.
e.g. We have less money to spend on this trip than we used to have.

Real is an adjective; really is an adverb.

e.g. The firefighter was really brave when he saved the child.
e.g. What you saw was real, and not your imagination.

Anxious means worried; eager means impatiently desirous.

e.g. He was anxious about his future.
e.g. The children are eager to open their Christmas presents.

Both mean with reference to.

e.g. As regards your performance, I think you did a good job (no “to”).

Its is the possessive of the pronoun “it”; It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”

e.g. It’s a fact that the earth is round.
e.g. The company has lost its control over the market in Asia.

Moral as a noun means a standard of behavior or teaching of a story; morale as a noun means a positive state of mind with reference to confidence.

e.g. Not to take advantage of the poor is a moral act (as an adjective).
e.g. The moral of the story is that dishonesty never pays off.
e.g. This victory has increased the morale of the soldiers.

Father refers to greater distance; further means more or greater intensity.

e.g. Our new house is farther from the lake than from the river.
e.g. The demonstration only led to further racial tension.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, November 13, 2017

More American Idioms to Learn

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.

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.

Make or break: succeed or fail
e.g. This book will make or break my career as a writer.

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Learn Some Slang

Slang is highly ephemeral: it changes from one generation to another. Slang terms come into existence for various reasons, some obvious, some inexplicable, but most of them are delightfully direct and to the point. The use of slang adds spice to speech and writing.

Run to it: be enough.
e.g. Do you think the water supply will run to it?

Man of parts: an individual with different accomplishments.
e.g. He is a writer, a painter, and a musician--certain a man of parts.

Pull one's weight: do one's share.
e.g. Everyone should pull his weight if we want the project to succeed.

Rich: absurd; unreal.
e.g. He says he'll work hard from now on--that's rich!

Lump it: endure; bear with it.
e.g .It's too bad if you don't it; just lump it!

Near thing: almost did not succeed.
e.g. He won the race, but it was a near thing.

Clear as mud: obvious.
e.g. I thought everybody knew. It was clear as mud!

Have been had: cheated.
e.g. If you paid $50 for this, you've been had!

Go to pot: be discarded as useless.
e.g. This innovation will soon go to pot.

A bust up: a violent quarrel.
e.g. My wife and I had a bust up last night.

Keep one's countenance: refrain from moving or laughing.
e.g. She was so funny with her jokes that hardly anyone could keep his countenance.

Now you're talking!: talking sensibly.

e.g. It's good to hear your suggestions. Now you're talking! All along you were objecting to the plan! 

A look in: chance.
e.g. You can try. But I tell you what: you won't have a look in to get that job.

Go while the going is good: leave while the opportunity is still favorable.
e.g. If I were you, I would depart right now; go while the going's  good.

Made man: a successful individual

e.g. After all these years of hard work, he is finally a made man.

Go slow with: don't use too much.
e.g. Please go slow with the sugar; that's all we have left.

A lone wolf: a self-centered person.
e.g. He is a lone wolf, and never seems to get along with anyone.

Keep someone sweet: keep someone satisfied.
e.g. He is very good at keeping his boss sweet; that's why he can hold on to his job for that long.

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.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

How to Succeed in Writing

How to Succeed in Writing

There is no formula for success in writing. The key to success is “practice, practice, practice.” After all, writing is a skill; like any other skill, you must practice it before you can master it. You learn from your mistakes, and practicing writing improves your writing. If you write everyday, you will become a more competent and proficient writer. If you learn the mechanics and techniques of writing, your writing will become more effective. It is just a matter of time. And it is just that simple.

Writing is a learning experience for all. Anybody who wants to write learns how to write. One learns how to write by writing—just as one learns how to walk by walking. Everybody can write, as long as the heart is willing to learn and master the skill of writing.

However, to be a good writer, you must possess certain innate qualities:

An interest in words—the subtle shades of meaning between words; the power of words; the sound and rhythm of words

A knowledge of and passion for the subject—writing what you love and loving what you write

A creative mind—the creativity to visualize with vivid imagination, and to see things from different perspectives; the ability to see the relationship of the whole to its various parts

Personal discipline—time set aside to write, to re-write, to edit, and to re-edit

Willingness to learn and to improve—mastering basic writing skill through repeated practice and editing

Remember this: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. 

Practice writing everyday. There is always something that you can write about -- a diary, an email, a journal, or just about anything.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Knowing Their Differences


Perishable: liable to die or perish quickly.
e.g. Fresh vegetables are perishable if you don't put them in the refrigerator.

Perishing: causing suffering.
e.g. Negative thinking may cause perishing emotions and thoughts.


Sedative: calming or soothing.
e.g. Without her sedative medicine, she could not go to sleep.

Sedentary: accustomed to sitting; physically inactive.
e.g His sedentary work -- sitting in front of the computer -- took a toll on his health.
e.g. Most seniors have a sedentary lifestyle as they continue to age.


Fragile: delicate, easily broken.
e.g. This piece of antique is fragile; please handle with care.

Frail: weak in health; without strong support.
e.g. He looks pale and frail.
e.g. The Senator received frail support from his party.


Periodic: occurring again and again.
e.g. The singer has never really retired with periodic appearance on TV.

Periodical: published at regular intervals.
e.g. This is a periodical magazine -- published once a month.

Removable: can be dismissed or removed.
e.g. This is a removable position, not a permanent one.

Removed: distant, remote, separate.
 e.g. He is my removed relative.


Impair: weaken or repair.
e.g. Spending too much time on the computer may impair your vision.

Repair: fix
e.g. Eye exercises can repair your vision

 Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, November 6, 2017

Learn Some Common Idiomatic Expressions

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

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

Go ballistic: fly into a rage; be over enthusiastic
e.g. After she heard the bad news, she went ballistic and was uncontrollable.

Stick one’s neck out: take a risk
e.g. If I were you, I wouldn’t stick my neck out for that ungrateful friend of yours

All systems are go: everything is good and ready as planned
e.g. Everything is in order, and all systems are go. We can now launch the rocket.

Sleep on something: think seriously
e.g. I’ll sleep on what you just told me. I’ll give you an answer tomorrow.

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.

Call it a day: quit work and go home
e.g. I’m tired; let’s call it a day.
Talk through the hat: talk nonsense
e.g. During the whole evening, your friend had been talking through his hat.

Talk until one is blue in the face: talk a great deal
e.g. I talked until I was blue in the face, but she would not change her mind.

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Confusing Words and Phrases

The following pairs of words may look alike, but they don't mean the same:

Noteworthy / Noticeable

Noteworthy: deserving attention; noticeable: 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.

Waive / Wave

Waive: forgo or relinquish; wave: move.

e.g. If you sign this document, you will waive all your rights.
e.g. He was waving his hands at you.

Partake of 
/ Take part in

Partake of: share; take part in: perform.

e.g. The children will partake of the Christmas dinner.
e.g. The children will take part in the carol singing.

Freehand / Free-handed

Freehand: done by the hand. free-handed: generous.

e.g. His freehand sketch of the White House is really beautiful.
e.g. The rich man was free-handed with his donation.

Pleased about Pleased with

Pleased about: happy about (denoting a feeling of pleasure); pleased with: showing approval and satisfaction.

e.g. I am pleased about your success.
e.g. My boss is pleased with my performance.

Habitable: that can be lived in; habitual: acting by habit.

e.g. This house is under construction and is not habitable.
e.g. Don't believe what he says: he is a habitual liar.

Wait / Await

Wait: stay or stop without doing anything (requiring an object); await: be ready for or in store for.

e.g. I will wait for him.
e.g. Act now and don’t wait for the announcement.
e.g. He did not realize that good fortune was awaiting him.
e.g. We await your reply with interest.

Right / Rightly

Right: immediately; rightly: justly, correctly.

e.g. Do it right now.
e.g. Do it right away.
e.g. I rightly canceled the trip.
e.g. We refused the offer, and rightly so.

Recollect / Re-collect

Recollect: remember; re-collect: gather together, or regain calmness of mind.

e.g. Do you recollect what happened last night when you were dead drunk.
e.g. For this investigation, we have to re-collect all the data.
e.g. Calm down, and re-collect yourself.
Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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 to show how they should be used correctly.

Books By Stephen Lau