Stephen Lau's website to help you get the wisdom to live as if everything is a miracle.

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Prepositional Words and Phrases

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 do.

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