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Monday, February 26, 2018

Learning American Idioms

Learning American idioms is as important as learning the vocabulary, the sentence structure, and the grammar usage of American English. 

Idioms are words and phrases in a language that have come into existence for a variety of reasons, some obvious enough, some inexplicable, but most of them appropriately and delightfully characteristic of the race that created them. American idioms are no exception; they reflect American culture at every social level. They are used in everyday life, in speaking and in writing, in movies and on television, and by people from all walks of life. 

Through thick and thin: through good times as well as bad times
e.g. Don’t worry! I’ll stick by you through thick and thin.

Inch along: move very slowly
e.g. Business was inching along because of the economy.

You bet: yes, of course
e.g. “Are you hungry?” “You bet!”

Above and beyond: more than is required
e.g. Asking the employees to work extra hours but without paying them is above and beyond their loyalty.

Vested interest: a personal stake
e.g. He showed a vested interest in his uncle’s business.

Act one’s age: behave maturely
e.g. Stop behaving like a teenager! Act your age.

Under one’s own steam: by one’s own effort 
e.g. He cannot succeed under his own steam; he needs the support of his family.

As easy as pie: very easy
e.g. Cooking a turkey is as easy as pie.

Take something on the chin: get a direct blow
e.g. The bad news was a shock to me; I took it on the chin.

Flip-flop: change sides in an issue
e.g. Politicians who flip-flop too much are unpopular with voters.

Hold one’s end up: do one’s part; reliable
e.g. I know I can count on you; you always hold your end up.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Slang and Colloquial Expressions

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.

Stephen Lau

Monday, February 19, 2018

Learn More Prepositional Words and 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.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, February 16, 2018

Learn Some Prepositional Words and Phrases

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:


Bring about: cause something to happen.

e.g. The racial discrimination brought about the social unrest.

Bring off: achieve something difficult.

e.g. The research on DNA was difficult and unpredictable, but the scientists were able to bring it off.

Bring on: cause something to happen.

e.g. What brought the event on?

e.g. The riot was brought on by the Mayor's proposed policy.

Bring to: revive; make it clear.

e.g. The man fainted, but was soon brought to with some smelling salt.

e.g. I hope this incident will bring you to your senses.

Bring to a close: end something.

e.g. I hope this verdict will finally bring the matter to a close.

Bring out emphasize.

e.g. That tragedy brought out the best of humanity: all the neighbors were caring and compassionate.

Bring up: raise; care for.

e.g. In this day and age, it is not easy to bring up children.


Keep at: continue to do.

e.g. You must keep at it until it is done.

Keep down: prevent from advancing.

e.g His lack of an advanced degree will keep him down in his career.

Keep on: continue.

e.g. Keep on, and don't give up!

e.g. Keep on with your good work.

Keep up: maintain the pace.

e.g. Keep up and don't fall behind.

e.g. You have to work extra hard to keep up with the rest of the class.


Dress down: scold severely.

e.g. The manager dressed him down right in front of all the employees.

Dress up: put clothes on; adorn.

e.g. Wow! Look at you! You really get dressed up for the party in this fancy dress!


Cut back: reduce the use or amount.

e.g. We should cut back our expenses on grocery.

Cut in: interrupt.

e.g. Don’t cut in when someone is talking; it is very rudeCut off: turn off of a road.

e.g. This is where you should cut off on the left and head straight for the highway.

e.g. You are not cut out to be a politician; you don’t have the temperament to be one.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Use of Appropriate Words and Phrases

Effective writing requires the use of appropriate words and phrases, which can make a great difference in the quality as well as the effectiveness of your writing.

Selecting words with the right connotation and denotation

Denotation is the precise meaning of a word; connotation is the association of a word, which can be positive, negative, or neutral.

e.g. slender with a positive connotation, suggesting “tall” and “thin”

e.g. thin with a neutral connotation

e.g. skinny with a negative connotation of being “too thin”

Using words in their right parts of speech

e.g. occupational hazard NOT occupation hazard (using noun for an adjective) 

e.g. sleep well NOT sleep good (using an adjective for an adverb)

Well, not good, is generally used in a compound word to form a compound adjective:

e.g. A person who behaves well is well-behaved.

e.g. A person with good intentions is well-intentioned.

e.g. A person who speaks well is well-spoken.

BUT “a person with good looks is good-looking.” (NOT well-looking, possibly because well-looking may suggest “looking healthy”.

Using correct idioms

Idioms are accepted expressions in the English language. They add elegance to your writing. But incorrect idioms can make your writing look sloppy. The following are examples of incorrect use of idioms:

e.g. according to NOT according with

e.g. aptitude for NOT aptitude toward

e.g. capable of doing NOT capable to do

e.g. complain to NOT complain with

e.g. comply with NOT comply to

e.g. conclude by saying NOT conclude in saying

e.g. conform to or with NOT conform in

e.g. die of NOT die from

e.g. different from NOT different to or different than

e.g. every now and then NOT ever now and then

e.g. except for NOT excepting for

e.g. identical with NOT identical to

e.g. in accordance with NOT in accordance to

e.g. incapable of doing NOT incapable to do

e.g. in my opinion, NOT to my opinion

e.g. in search of NOT in search for

e.g. in sight into NOT in sight of

e.g. intend to do NOT intend on doing

e.g. in the year 2010 NOT in the year of 2010

e.g. on the whole NOT on a whole

e.g. outlook on life NOT outlook of life

e.g. plan to do NOT plan on doing

e.g. prior to NOT prior than

e.g. regardless of NOT regardless to

e.g. relate to NOT relate with

e.g. similar to NOT similar with

e.g. super to NOT superior than

e.g. try to see NOT try and see

e.g. type of NOT type of a

e.g. what to do about this NOT what to do with this

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau