Better English for You

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Choose the Correct Words

Writing has to do with words, in particular, the choice of words. A good stock of vocabulary is of course important. But other than that, you also need to know the exact meaning of each word so that you will use it correctly. There are many words that may sound similar, but they have different meanings, and thus they are confusing. 

Mellow / Melodious

Mellow: mature; soft and pure; rich and full.
e.g. As he continues to age, he become more mellow and compassionate.
Melodious: tuneful; pleasant to the ear.
e.g. He voice is melodious; he should take up singing.

Reign Rein

Reign means to rule over; rein means to control (e.g. an animal)
e.g. The emperor reigned over the country for decades.
e.g. You must rein in your hot temper.
e.g. Beware of giving free rein to your reason. (i.e. not release from any restraint).

Defuse / Diffuse

Defuse means to decrease the danger, such as deactivate a bomb; diffuse means to spread over a wide area.
e.g. It is difficult to defuse the conflicts in the Middle East.
e.g. Once you open the bottle of fragrant herbs, their scents will diffuse.

Genteel / Gentle

Genteel: well-bred, polite; imitating the lifestyle of the rich.
e.g. Your friend is genteel. Is he very rich?
e.g. All along he has been living in genteel poverty. He is not practical.

Faint / Feint

Faint (both as a noun and a verb) means loss of consciousness; feint means a misleading attack.
e.g. She fainted when she heard the bad news.
e.g. The robber, who gave a feint, began to attack the policeman.

Studio / Studious

Studio: a place where pictures are taken, or films are made.
e.g. The film was made in a Hollywood studio.
Studious: fond of study; careful and thoughtful.
e.g. To be a good scientist, you must be studious.

Hail / Hale

Hail means to greet or salute; hale means healthy and strong.
e.g. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."
e.g. A man is hale when his complexion is rosy.
e.g. This dress is too loose for you (not tight enough).

Some time / Sometime / Sometimes

Some time means a period of time.
Sometime, as an adverb, means approximately; as an adjective, means former or occasional.
Sometimes, as an adverb, means now and then.
e.g. We have been for the train for some time.
e.g. Why don't you visit me sometime?
e.g. She was my sometime girlfriend.
e.g. Sometimes I like her, and sometimes I don't -- that's our relationship.

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.

Lose Loose

Lose means being unable to find; loose means to set free or to become less tight.
e.g. Here is your ticket to the game; don't lose it.
e.g. Don't lose your temper (become angry).
e.g. You are too loose with your children (you have little or no control over them).

Impersonate / Personate

Impersonate is to 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 President to entertain the audience.
e.g. Someone personated the client, and took the money.

Recourse / Resort

Recourse means turning to others or something for help; resort means to turn to for help (both noun and verb).

e.g. His only recourse was the police.
e.g. The police should not resort to violence to stop the peaceful demonstration.
e.g. The army decided using violence as the last resort.

Decorative / Decorous

Decorative: having an artistic or showy effect.
e.g. The ballroom with all the ribbons and flowers are very decorative.
Decorous: showing good taste.
e.g. The Princess looks decorous in that simple but elegant dress.

Foul / Fowl

Foul means dirty or offensive; fowl  a fowl is a bird, such as hen.
e.g. The smoke from that factory fouls the air. (as a verb)
e.g. He always speak foul language, even in the presence of ladies. (as an adjective)
e.g. We are going to have a roast fowl for Thanksgiving.

Admit / Admit of

Admit means to confess an act; admit of means allow of or leave room for.
e.g. He did not admit taking the key without permission.
e.g. The circumstance admits of no delay.
e.g. His admission of guilt shows his honest personality.
e.g. There is no admittance for error.

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, January 18, 2019

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


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Confusing Words

Here are some of  the words which are frequently misused:


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

Potent / Potential

Potent: strong, powerful; potential: power that could be, but is not yet.

e.g. He is a potent politician.

e.g. He has great potential in American politics.


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.

Sensual / Sensuous

Sensual: related to the body; sensuous: related to the five senses.

e.g. It is difficult to be spiritual when one focuses too much on sensual pleasures.

e.g. The painter is able to provide some sensuous images in his painting.

Defer / Infer

Defer: give way or yield to; infer: conclude.

e.g. He is a good kid: he always defers to his parents' wishes.

e.g. We can infer from your statement that you don't like this policy.

Common / Commonplace

Common: shared or used by many; commonplace: ordinary, not unusual.

e.g. English is a common language used in Europe.

e.g. Nowadays, carrying a gun is commonplace.

Compare to / Compare with

Compare to: state a resemblance to; compare with: put side by side to find out the similarities and differences.

e.g. The poet compares living in this modern world to riding on a bullet train.

e.g. If you compare Plan A with Plan B, you will know that Plan B is much better than Plan A. 

Mediate / Meditate

Mediate means to act as a peacemaker; meditate means to think deeply.

e.g. The Secretary of State is trying to mediate between the two warring nations.

e.g. He meditated revenge after he was insulted by his coworkers.
  
Reverend / Reverent

Reverend: worthy of respect; reverent: showing respect.

e.g. Have you met the Rev. Mr. Johnson?

e.g. He gave a reverent speech on drug addiction.

In regard to / As regards

Both mean with reference to.

e.g. As regards your performance, I think you did a good job (no “to”).

e.g. She is very generous in regard to charity donation.


Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

American Idioms


Act one’s age: behave maturely

e.g. Stop behaving like a teenager! Act your age.

Play the field: date many different people at the same time
e.g. He wanted to play the field while he was still young.
Plead/take the Fifth (the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution): not to incriminate oneself
e.g. After consulting with his lawyer, he decided to take the Fifth.
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.

Lead someone astray: cause someone to do something wrong or illegal

e.g. If you are always in the company of lawbreakers, you  may be easily be led astray.

Pass the hat: collect money for

e.g. He is always passing the hat for something.

Pop the question: propose to marry
e.g. Now that you’ve got the ring; when are you going to pop the question?

No can do: impossible

e.g. He asked me for more money. I told him no can do.

Bag your face: shut up!

e.g. You and your loud mouth! Go and bag your face!

One’s days are numbered: about to die or to be dismissed

e.g. The manager doesn’t like her.  I would say her days are numbered.

Occur to someone: come to mind

e.g. It never occurred to me that I would fail my driving test.

Live beyond one’s means: spend more than one can earn

e.g. You are in debt because you are living beyond your means.

Pain in the neck: annoyance

e.g. You are pain in the neck, always complaining about this and that.

Over the hump: overcome the most difficult part

e.g. We are now over the hump; the rest may not be that difficult.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Why These Sentences Are Incorrect

Which of the following sentences are incorrect? (1) Coming home from school yesterday, I met my cousin who came to see me. (2) My co...