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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Learning Prepositional Words and Phrases


Ask about: find out more about.

e.g. I want to ask about my application for that position.

Ask after: ask about the health and wellbeing of someone.

e.g. My in-laws asked after you.

Ask around: request information from a number of people.

e.g. I plan to ask around to see what people think about the new mayor.

Ask back: invite someone to come again.

e.g. Because of your rudeness, they will never ask you back.

Ask for: request for someone or something.

e.g. The policeman is asking for you.

Ask of: ask of something from someone.

e.g. I want to ask a favor of you.

Ask out: invite someone to go out.
e.g. I asked her out to dinner, but she refused.

Ask over: invite someone to visit.

e.g. I asked my neighbor over to fix my computer.

Face into: turn something or someone towards certain direction.

e.g. Please face into the camera; they want to take a picture of you.

Face off:  prepare for a confrontation.

e.g. The two candidates are going to face off in a debate.

Face up: confront something with courage.

e.g This is a huge challenge that you must face up.


Ace in(to): to be luck to be admitted into (slang).

e.g. My son aced into Harvard University.

Ace out of: to be lucky to accomplish something.

e.g. I aced out of my chemistry exam.


Ease someone of something: to relieve or reduce someone of something.

e.g. The doctor eased me of my back pain.

Ease off: diminish; let up doing something.

e.g The rain has eased off; we'd better leave now.

e.g. Come on, he's just a kid. Ease off!

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Knowing Their Differences

Eminent / Imminent / prominent

Eminent means important or outstanding; imminent means coming soon.

e.g. He is an eminent author whose books have been translated into multiple languages worldwide.
e.g. Look at the dark clouds above; I think a storm is imminent.

Endure / Persevere

Endure means to bear bravely; persevere means to keep on doing.

e.g. It is not easy to endure the physical pain.
e.g. In spite of all the difficulties, he persevered with his plans.

Observable / Observant

Observable: can be seen or noticed; observant: quick to pay attention.

e.g. The solution to the problem is observable to many scientists.
e.g. To be a good scientist, you must be observant of all the relevant details and data.

Deplete / Replete

Deplete means to empty; replete means to be filled with.

e.g. My illness might have depleted me of energy and strength.
e.g. Your garage is replete with garden tools.

Everyday / Every day

Everyday is an adjective.

e.g. This is an everyday event.
e.g. This happens in every day.
e.g. Every day somebody is killed on the road.

Pretense Pretension

Pretense is to make believe; pretension is a claim

e.g. She makes no pretense to like her mother-in-law. (She does not pretend that she likes her mother-in-law)
e.g. He made no pretension to that award. (He never claimed that he received that award)

Ingenious / Ingenuous

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.

Noteworthy / Noticeable

Noteworthy means deserving attention; noticeable means 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.

Emigrate means to move to a country; immigrate means to come to country.

e.g. Many people like to emigrate to the United States.
e.g. Those who immigrate from other countries must abide by the laws in this country.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

American Idioms

Gang up on: join to attack
e.g. They all gang up on the new student with verbal attacks.
By leaps and bounds: increase rapidly
e.g. Ever since the company’s makeover, the profits have increased by leaps and bounds.

Take the rap: take the blame or punishment for something one is not responsible
e.g. I’m not going to take the rap for something I have not done!

Strike someone’s fancy: appeal to someone
e.g. If you go to an online dating service, you may find a girlfriend who strikes your fancy.

Talk a blue streak: talk a lot and very rapidly
e.g. I didn’t understand what he was saying: he was talking a blue streak.

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
Get an in with: have influence with someone in authority
e.g. If you can get an in with the officials, you can park your car here.
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.

Tail wagging the dog: a situation in which a less important part is in control
e.g. In this coming election, the tail will be wagging the dog; that is, the minority will decide the outcome of the election

Buy something: believe
e.g. I don’t think I buy what you told me just now.

Take the bitter with the sweet: accept both the pleasant and the unpleasant
e.g. In life, one must take the bitter with the sweet.
Step on someone’s toes: offend
e.g. A public officer should avoid stepping on anyone’s toes.

By the skin of one’s teeth: just barely
e.g. I did not miss my plane; I made to the airport by the skin of my teeth.

Call someone on the carpet: scold or reprimand
e.g. If you late for work one more time, the manager will call you on the carpet.

Full of crap: talking nonsense all the time
e.g. I don’t like your friend; he’s full of crap.

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, December 18, 2017

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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

These Words Are Easily Confusec

To write effectively, you must be careful with your choice of words. Here are some words that may be misused: 

Perishable / Perishing

Perishable: liable to die quickly; perishing: causing suffering.

e.g. Fresh vegetables are perishable; put them in the refrigerator.
e.g. Negative thinking may cause perishing emotions and thoughts.

Numerical / Numerous
Numerical: having to do with numbers; numerous: great in number.

e.g. If you want to do well in your math, you must learn these numerical symbols.
e.g. The turnout at the meeting was numerous.

Observable / Observant
Observable: can be seen or noticed; observant: quick to pay attention.

e.g. The solution to the problem is observable to many scientists.
e.g. To be a good scientist, you must be observant of all the relevant details and data.

Fragile / Frail

Fragile: delicate, easily broken; frail: weak in health; without strong support.

e.g. This piece of glassware is fragile; please handle it with care.
e.g. You look pale and frail today. What's wrong with you?
e.g. The presidential candidate received frail support from his own State.

Providing that / Provided that
Provided that: on condition that; providing that is incorrect.

e.g. You can go out to play provided (that) you have finished your homework.
e.g. You can keep the book for another week providing that no one has reserved it (incorrect)
e.g. The millionaire has helped the poor, providing many of them with food and shelter. (correct; meaning: giving or offering)

Noteworthy / Noticeable
Noteworthy means deserving attention; noticeable means 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.

Indoor / Indoors
Indoor is an adjective; indoors is an adverb.

e.g. Basketball is both an indoor and outdoor game.
e.g. A storm is coming; let's go indoors.

Welcome / Welcomed
Welcome is an adjective or a verb; welcomed is a participle.

e.g. You are most welcome.
e.g. This is a welcome party for all newcomers.
e.g. I like to welcome all of you.
e.g. The guests were welcomed by all of us in front of the house.

Impersonate / Personate

Impersonate: copy or imitate a person for fun; personate is to claim to be another person with the purpose to cheat or deceive.

e.g. The comedian impersonated the movie star to entertain the audience.
e.g. Someone personated the doctor, and went into the surgery room

Accountable to / Accountable for
Accountable to: responsible to someone; accountable for: responsible for something.

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

Stephen Lau 
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Prepositional Words and Phrases


Blow in: visit unexpectedly.
 e.g. What a surprise! What blows you in?

Blow over: end without causing harm.
 e.g. The Mayor expected the riot would blow over in a day or two.

Blow up: become very angry.
 e.g. As soon as he heard the bad news, he blew up and started shouting and screaming.

Noise about: gossip.
 e.g. Please don’t noise about my being fired by my boss.


Appeal against: ask a court to cancel something.
 e.g. The lawyer appealed against the court’s decision.

Appeal for: demand as a right.
 e.g. I think we should appeal for justice.
 e.g. They are appealing for our help.

Appeal to: attract or please someone.
 e.g. The proposal appealed to many of us.
 e.g. Her personality appeals to everybody around her.
 e.g. Does this food appeal to your taste?


Include among: choose or classify.
 e.g. He included himself among the top writers of science fiction.

Include in: invite.
 e.g. I think we’ll include him in the party.

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Confusing English Words and Phrases


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