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.”

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Learning and Mastering English

American Idioms

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

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.

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.

e.g. "How is she doing?" "Very much alive and kicking."

Choice of Words

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

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Prepositional Words and Phrases

Touch up: repair.

e.g. Can you touch up the scratches on the car?
e.g. This chair needs some touch-up.

Make up: invent; apply cosmetics; become reconciled.

e.g. He had to make up an excuse explaining why he was so late.
e.g. She made up beautifully before she put on the fancy dress.
e.g. After the heated argument, the man and his wife made up.

Run against: compete.

e.g. I am going to run against him in the coming mayor election.

Die away: disappear.

e.g. The noise died away and it was silent.

Hand over: yield control of.

e.g. The manager has handed over the human resources section to the assistant manager.

Call off: cancel

e.g. Due to the bad weather, the meeting was called off.

Walk over: go to where someone is.

e.g.  I have something to give to you. Can you walk over?

Back out: desert; fail to keep a promise.

e.g. You said you would help us, but you backed out the last minute.

Stephen Lau

Friday, September 24, 2021

Use of Subjunctive Mood

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© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Difficult But Common Words

Focus on learning some of the most popularly used difficult-but-common words in the English language. The objective here is to familiarize yourself with the most common senses of the difficult words you are most likely to come across. 

Opulent: having wealth and luxury

e.g. Now that he had filed for bankruptcy, it would be difficult for him to maintain his opulent lifestyle.

Insolent: rude and disrespectful

e.g. He was simply offering his advice out of goodwill, but your response was insolent and inappropriate.

Malleable: easily adaptable or changeable

e.g. In this economic environment, people are malleable to economic reforms.

Emanate: come from a source

e.g. The sounds emanating from next door were so disturbing that we finally called the police.

Flaunt: to show off in an ostentatious way

e.g. Nobody likes her because she is always flaunting her wealth in her jewels and her furs.

Homage: high respect or honor

e.g. Even the Queen paid homage to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country.

Contrition: sadness or remorse over past wrong actions

e.g. The judge gave him the maximum sentence because he showed no contrition even when confronted by his victims.

Baneful: harmful or destructive influence

e.g. The custody of the children was taken from the parents because of the baneful influence of their lifestyle on their children.

Fledgingyoung and inexperienced.

e.g. As a fledging reporter, he was quite nervous when he interviewed the President.

Catch-22: an impossible situation, a predicament

e.g. He found himself in a catch-22: he could not stay, but he did not have the means to leave.

Debaclea complete failure

e.g. The bailout, to many, was a financial debacle.

Obliqueindirect or unclear.

e.g. The young man’s testimony was oblique to be of any use as a witness for the police.

Consternationsudden amazement.

e.g. The plunge of the Dow Jones Industrial Average caused a great deal of consternation in the financial markets worldwide.

Incorrigibleincapable of being reformed (often used in a lighthearted, ironic sense).

e.g. You’re incorrigible, forever getting into scrapes and causing mischief.

Elucidate: explain in full or make clear

e.g. To throw more light on the issue, the President began to elucidate his statement.

Cumbersomehard to manage, or troublesome

e.g. The task of tidying up the entire basement is not only exhaustive but also cumbersome to a nine-year-old kid.

Incognito: hidden or unknown with the purpose of intentionally changing appearance.

e.g. Many movie stars wear dark sunglasses in hopes of remaining incognito at public places.

Nether: lower, such as the nether regions of something are the parts that lie beneath or beyond the main part.

e.g. Dante takes the reader on a journey to the nether regions of hell.

Clandestinesecretive or kept hidden from authorities.

e.g. Nowadays, terrorists may use the Internet for their clandestine communication with one another.

Déjà vu (pronounced as day-zhuh VOO): (French) something “already seen” in the past.

e.g. If you still remember the decoration and design of last year's exhibition, you will have a sense of deja vu when visiting this year's exhibition.


Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Correct Choice of Words


Currant means a kind of black berry; current means a movement of air or water; or of the present time.
e.g. We enjoy the dessert made with honey and currant.
e.g. The water may not be safe for swimming because there is a strong current below the water surface.
e.g. His secretary always keeps him updated with current affairs.

e.g. Soaking the beans overnight should precede the cooking.
e.g. We decide
Precede means come or go before in time or place; proceed means to go forward.

d to proceed with the plan, even without the funding.


Terminable: can be ended.
e.g. Your job is only temporary and terminable at any time.
Terminal: at the end.
e.g. The doctor told the patient PRETENSE / PRETENSION
that she had terminal cancer.


Secondary means next after the first in importance; secondly means in the next place.

e.g. Concentrate on this; that is only a secondary source.
e.g. Firstly, you have to take care of yourself. Secondly, take care of your family.

Pretense is to make believe; pretension is a claim

e.g. I make no pretense to like her (I do not pretend that I like her).
e.g. He laughed and made a pretense not to be offended by the insult.
e.g. I make no pretension to that award.
e.g. I never make any pretension that I am an expert in this field.

Waive means to forgo or relinquish; wave means to move.
e.g. If you sign this document, you will waive all your rights.
e.g. He was waving his hands at you.


Defer: give way or yield to; infer: conclude.
e.g. He is a good kid: he always defers to his parents' wishes.
e.g. We can infer from your statement that you don't like this policy.


Accountable to: responsible to someone; accountable for: responsible for something
e.g. The Manager has to be accountable to the Board; he has to be accountable for all his business decisions. 

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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

Monday, September 20, 2021

More Colloquial Expressions

Dead from the neck upwards: stupid.
e.g. Don’t follow his example; he’s dead from the neck upwards.

In for it: likely to have trouble.
e.g. If you don't listen to my advice, you're in for it.

Easy on the eye: good looking.
e.g. I say, your girlfriend is easy on the eye.

Killer: a very funny joke.
e.g. That last one was really a killer;  everybody laughed.

Kick back: relax and enjoy.
e.g I really want to kick back and enjoy the music.

Act your age: behave yourself according to your age..
e.g. You’re almost an adult. Come on, act your age, and stop behaving like a spoiled brat!

In a jiffy: soon.
e.g. The manager will see you in a jiffy.

Next to nothing: hardly anything.
e.g. “Did she leave you anything at all?” “Well, next to nothing.”

Go: attempt.
e.g. Have a go at doing this on your own.

Easy mark: a likely victim.
e.g. If you are so unsuspecting, you may become an easy mark for swindlers.

Bazillion: a great number of.
e.g. The national debt is now in bazillion dollars, and the Congress needs to do something about that.

No way: not at all.
e.g. “Are you going to give him a hand?” “No way; he’ll be on his own.”

Beat: broke, no money.
e.g. Without a job, we are beat, no copper and no bread.

Chip on one’s shoulder: a grudge against.
e.g. She still has a chip on her shoulder: your infidelity some years ago. 

 Ace someone out: win out over someone.
e.g. I plan to ace him out in the first round of the competition.

Head above water: out of debt.
e.g. Nowadays, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Mean-green: money.
e.g. Can I borrow a little mean-green from you?

Ask me another: I don't know.
e.g. "Does your daughter want a baby?" "Ask me another!"

No two ways about it: no other alternative.
e.g. The man had to file for bankruptcy; no two ways about it

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau