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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Some Common Idiomatic Expressions

Idiomatic expressions are sentences or phrases whose meanings cannot be easily worked out from the words they contain. As an ESL learner, avail yourself the opportunity to learn some idiomatic expressions ivery day. Here are some common ones:

In the clear: safe, secure; out of debt.

e.g. He was suspected of driving under the influence, but now he is in the clear.
e.g. After paying back his gambling debts, he is now in the clear.

Get cracking (informal): start doing something; it is similar to get going.

e.g. Let's get cracking, we still have much to finish before the day is over.
e.g. We'd better get going if we don't want to miss the flight.

For good: for ever.

e.g. After their quarrel, she left him for good.
e.g. In the accident, our new car was totaled (destroyed) for good. 

In the raw: without material comforts; very poor.

e.g. If you had been a refugee, you would know what it would be like living in the raw.

In the same boat: in the same bad situation.

e.g. We are in the same boat now that I,  too, have lost my job.

Gt something into one's head: get an idea stuck into one's head; become obsessed or stubborn with an idea.

e.g. Don't get it into your head that she will never help you financially; after all, she is your mother.

Strange to say: surprisingly.

e.g. The car plunged into the waterfall; strange to say, the drive survived without any injury.

For a song: very cheaply

e.g. Do you want my car? I'l sell it to you for a song.

Red-letter day: a very important day.

e.g. Tomorrow is a red-letter day: my son is getting married.

Also, learn some American idioms: Everyday American Idioms for ESL Learners.

Look here: emphasizing a point.

e.g. "Look here, I can't help you right now; I'm cooking our dinner."

e.g. "Look here, it was impolite to talk to your parents like that."

Stephen Lau
Copyright©2018 by Stephen Lau

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Correct Use of Pronouns

The Correct Use of Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that stands for a noun. Effective use of pronouns allows flexibility in writing.

e.g. Peter left for New York. He drove there in his new car.

e.g. I bought myself an expensive watch. It cost me one thousand dollars.

Relative pronouns (who, whom, which, that) introduce clauses that describe nouns or pronouns. These relative clauses can be restrictive (i.e. containing essential information), or non-restrictive (i.e. containing only additional but non-essential information).

Compare the following pairs of sentences:

e.g. The van that hit my dog was a mini van. (correct)

The relative clause above identifies the van, and therefore is essential to meaning of the sentence.

e.g. The van, which hit my dog, was a mini van.(incorrect)

The non-restrictive relative clause above provides only additional information. The use of a non-restrictive clause with the two commas further implies that it can be deleted; however, without which hit my dog, the sentence would not make much sense.

e.g. The reporter who took the photos is now being sued for invasion of privacy. (correct)

The relative clause above is restrictive because it identifies the reporter being sued.

e.g. The reporter, who took the photos, is now being sued for invasion of privacy. (correct)

The relative clause above becomes non-restrictive with the addition of two commas, and who took the photos becomes extra information non-essential to the meaning of the sentence. The sentence without the non-restrictive clause who took the photos would still make sense, and therefore is correct as it stands.

Knowing the difference between a restrictive and non-restrictive relative clause will help you in effective sentence construction.

Incorrect use of subjective pronouns is a common grammatical error.

e.g. My father and I went to see the show. (NOT me: both of us went to see the show)

e.g. It is I who made the decision. (NOT me: I made the decision.)

e.g. The real losers are we ourselves. (NOT us: we are the real losers.)

e.g. The man who called us was who? (NOT whom: who called us?)

e.g. The woman who killed her baby was she. (NOT her: she killed her baby.)

e.g. Peter and he went to the movie. (NOT him: both went to the movie.)

The correct use of pronouns can be difficult with certain expressions, such as, as and more than. The following pairs of sentences are correct, but the meaning is different.

e.g. She likes him more than I. (She likes him more than I like him.)

e.g. She likes him more than me. (She likes him more than she likes me.)

e.g. I like Peter better than she. (I like Peter better than she likes Peter.)

e.g. I like Peter better than her. (I like Peter better than I like her.)

Use possessive pronouns with gerunds (words ending in ing) correctly.

e.g. You don’t like my going to the fair by myself. (NOT me going: you don’t like the “going” not “me” the person.)

e.g. Your smirking irritates me. (NOT you smirking: not “you” but your “smirking” irritates me)

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent (the noun that a pronoun refers to).

e.g. All is well. (referring to the sum of all things)

e.g. All are well. (referring to a number of people)

e.g. Everyone wants to get his or her application submitted. (NOT their)

e.g. None of them is going to succeed. (NOT are: the subject is none)

e.g. Some is better than none. (referring to a quantity)

e.g. Some are good. (referring to a number of things)

Stephen Lau     

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, July 21, 2018

More 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.


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.


Hold up on someone or something: delay or postpone further action.
e.g. Hold up on the appointment; we may have a better candidate.

Hold with something: agree or tolerate something.
e.g. I don't think I can hold with your preposition.


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!


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.

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Prepositional Words and Phrases

A prepositional phrase is a combination of a verb with a preposition. Such a combination may give different meanings to the same verb with different prepositions. For example, the verb “argue” may result in different meanings with different prepositions:  

Argue about: dispute or quarrel with someone over.

e.g. They often argue about racial injustice over the dinner table.

Argue against: make a case against someone or something.

e.g. The police discovered new evidence that argued against the criminal charge.

Argue back: answer back.

e.g. I wish he would not argue back so much.

Argue down: defeat someone in a debate.

e.g. He tries to argue down everyone who has opposite views.

Argue for: make a case for someone.

e.g. My lawyer will argue for me in court.

Argue into: convince someone to do something.

e.g. I could not argue myself into helping you in this project.

Argue with: challenge someone or something.

e.g. I won’t argue with what you do; after all, it is your choice.

Therefore, learn more prepositional phrases and find out how they are different in meaning with different prepositions.


Talk back: answer impolitely.

e.g. It's rude to talk back to your parents like that.

Talk over: discuss.

e.g. We'll talk over the matter before we see your parents.


Back down: retreat from a position in an argument.

e.g. Knowing that he did not have a valid point, he backed down.

Back out: desert; fail to keep a promise.

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

Back out of: fail to keep a promise.

e.g. We cannot back out of the contract; we are legally obligated to do what we are supposed to do.

Back up: support

e.g. Are you going to back me up if I decide to go ahead with the project?


Touch on: mention briefly.

e.g. The professor barely touched on the subject of Civil War.

Touch up: repair.

e.g. Can you touch up the scratches on the door?


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?

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, July 9, 2018

Learn Some Colloquial Expressions


 What gives?: what's wrong? what's the problem?

e.g. "You were screaming at each other. What gives?"

Not for love nor money: absolutely not; no way.

e.g. "Can you tell her the bad news?" "Not for love nor money."

In a nutshell: in summary

e.g. "We're having serious financial and relationship problems." "In a nutshell, you want to divorce your wife?"

What's your point?: be brief.

e.g. "I don't know what you're rambling about (talking without a definite purpose). What's your point?"

What would you say if: asking for an opinion; what about?

e.g. "I heard you were recently offered a job." "What would you say if I decline the offer?"

It could have been worse: accept an apology.

e.g. "I'm sorry I broke your glass." "It could have been worse."

Keep one's shirt on: calm down; don't get too excited.

e.g. "Cool off! Keep your shirt on. This is not the end of the world."

Worst-case scenario: worst consequence

e.g.  A blizzard is coming. The worst-case scenario is that all public transport will be suspended.

Yesterday wouldn't be too soon: as soon as possible.

e.g. "When do you want me to give this to you?" "Yesterday wouldn't be too soon!"

You ain't seen nothing yet: the best is yet to come.

e.g. "The soup was excellent." "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

You could have fooled me: I would have thought otherwise.

e.g. "We're not getting along well; we've too many differences." "You could have fooled me! I thought the two of you are cut out for each other."

As I see it: I think.

e.g. As I see it, the cold weather is going to stay for some time.

I am like you: we share the same opinion.

e.g. "I don't like cheese in my food." "I am like you: cheese makes me feel sick."

I spoke too soon: spoke without getting all the facts.

e.g. "You were wrong about that." "I'm sorry. Maybe I spoke too soon."

You don't know the half of it: it is worse than what you think.

e.g. "The company is having some financial problems." "You don't know the half of it. I tell you what; it might even go bankrupt."

Get right on it: do it immediately.

e.g. "Can you help me with this software?" "I'll get right on it."

You said a mouthful: you said what needs to be said.

e.g. "The movie was disappointing: the story was uninteresting; the acting was bad; and it was too long." "Yes, you said a mouthful!"

 Stephen Lau
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau

Monday, July 2, 2018

English Slang

English Slang

For a song: very cheaply.
e.g. I got that piece of antique for a song.

Tall story: exaggerated story
e.g. No one would believe your tall story.

French leave: leave without permission.
e.g. My boss found out I took my French leave yesterday to pick you up from the airport.

There are no flies on: very alert and sharp.
e.g. Don't try to trick him; there are no flies on him.

Go under: fail.
e.g. I am sorry to say that all your proposals have gone under.

No oil painting: ugly.
e.g. To tell the truth, the dress you bought me is no oil painting.

Till the cow comes home: never; indefinitely.
e.g. "When do you think he will find a job?" "Till the cow comes home."

Up and coming: making a reputation.
e.g. This candidate is up and coming in the presidential election.

The ticket: the right thing to do.
e.g. Perseverance is the ticket to success in any endeavor.

Say-so: permission.
e.g. Do I have your say-so to launch the project?

See with half an eye: see easily.
e.g. The mistake is so obvious: you can see it with half an eye.

For keeps: permanently.
e.g. I think the temporary assistant may be here for keeps.

Saw you coming: realized your ignorance.
e.g. You gave him the money right away without asking any question; he saw you coming!

Fork out: pay
e.g. Well, everybody has to fork out $30 for the farewell present to the boss.

That's a big one: a lie.
e.g. That was a big one. Do you expect me to believe it?

Stephen Lau
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau