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.”

Wednesday, January 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

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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

Monday, January 18, 2021

Everyday American Idioms

Learn some idiomatic expressions. The English language is rich in idioms. A student with only limited knowledge of idioms will find himself or herself in a serious disadvantage in reading, discussions, and debates, not to mention in effective writing.

In hot water: in serious trouble.

e.g. If you don't listen to me, you'll find yourself in hot water.

A rough house: a fight.

e.g. We'd better leave before there is a rough house.

All the rage: fashionable; in great demand.

e.g. Pink will be all the rage this summer.

Article of faith: an important element in one's philosophy.

e.g. Honesty is one of my articles of faith.

Come off second best: lose a fight or contest.

e.g. Despite all his efforts, he came off second best in the competition.

Writing on the wall: a warning of impending doom.

e.g. There were obvious signs that the company would soon be out of business; they should have seen the writing on the wall.

Third degree: physical or mental torture.
e.g. The police gave the suspect the third degree, but were unable to get any information about the crime.

Let the cat out of the bag: give away a secret

e.g. If you tell him that, you are letting a cat out of the bag; he has a big mouth!
Come to naught: come to nothing.

e.g. Despite all the efforts, the project came to naught.

A diamond in the rough: a person or thing with hidden value or qualities.
e.g. Don’t underestimate her—she’s a diamond in the rough.

Get on the wrong side of someone: to displease, or get out of favor
e.g. If you keep on bugging her, you will soon get on the wrong side of her.

In the melting-pot: not yet decided.
e.g. Because the President is not here, all the arrangements are backin the melting-pot again.

As safe as houses: very safe and secure.
e.g. Your money invested in this stock is as safe as houses.

Bad blood: unfriendly feelings.

e.g. There has always been bad blood between the two brothers.

Attitude of mind: mindset, way of thinking or feeling.
e.g. In order to succeed, you must have the right attitude of mind.

Bug off: stop bothering.

e.g. Bug off! And leave me alone!

Capitalize on something: make the most out of; exploit something to one’s advantage.
e.g. You should capitalize on your talents, instead of whiling away your time.

Keep an even keel: remain cool and calm.
e.g. In this situation, it is difficult to keep an even keel and not panic.

Have other fish to fry: other more important work to do.

e.g. I am not wasting my time over this matter; I just have other fish to fry.

Stephen Lau
All About Stephen Lau

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Some Common Sentence Errors to Avoid

Double Negatives

e.g. I didn’t see nobody. (incorrect)

I didn’t see anybody. (correct)

e.g. We are not going nowhere. (incorrect)

We are not going anywhere. (correct).

e.g. There isn't no money left. (incorrect)

There isn't any money left. (correct)

Omission of Key Verbs

e.g. The room was cleaned, and the curtains washed. (incorrect)

The room was cleaned, and the curtains were washed. (correct)

e.g. I never have, and never will do such a thing. (incorrect)

e.g. I never have done, and never will do such a thing. (correct)

Omission of Words in Comparison

e.g. His performance was better. (incorrect)

His performance was better than that (i.e. the performance) of the other candidates. (correct)

e.g. Your hands are bigger than any man that I know of. (incorrect)

e.g. You hands are bigger than those (i.e. the hands) of any man that I know of. (correct)


Dangling Participles

e.g. Walking down the street, the City Hall could be seen. (incorrect)

Walking down the streetwe could see the City Hall. (correct)

e.g. By exercising every day, your health will improve. (incorrect)

By exercising every dayyou will improve your health. (correct)

Misuse of Dependent Clauses

e.g. Because he had no money was the reason he stayed at home. (incorrect)

He stayed at home because he had no money. (correct)

Because he had no money, he stayed at home. (correct)

Having no money was the reason he stayed at home. (correct)

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Correct Use of Prepositions

The use of prepositions is one of the difficult aspects of learning English. A preposition is a functional word that appears before nouns and relates to some other constructions in the sentence.

A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and one or more prepositions that functions as a single unit of meaning. Phrasal verbs are commonly used in writing. As an ESL learner, learn some prepositional phrases:


Drift apart: separate slowly.

e.g. He drifted apart from his friends and lived a secluded life.

Drift back: go back to someone or something slowly.

e.g. He drifted back to her former girlfriend, and they were soon married.

Drift off: move away slowly.

e.g. The boat drifted off and it disappeared in the thick fog.

Drift off to sleep: fall asleep gradually.

e.g. He sat on the sofa, and finally drifted off to sleep.


Frown at: scowl at someone or something.

e.g. She frowned at my cat and gave her a kick.

Frown on: show disapproval.
e.g. His parents frown on everything he does.


Hold no brief for: tolerate someone or something.

e.g. I hold no brief for that kind of behavior.

Hold off: delay; restrain.

e.g. The air strike might hold off the enemies for some time.

Hold one's end up: carry one's share of the bargain or burden.

e.g. We expect you to hold your end up and keep your promise to back us up.

e.g. With only that much money left, I don't know how long we could hold out.

Hold still for something: put up with something.

e.g. It is not easy to hold still for that kind of rude remark.


Ground in: instruct.

e.g. We should ground our children in love and compassion as they grow up.

Ground on: form a foundation for.

e.g. His intelligence was grounded on reading books on wisdom.


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.

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau