Better English for You

<b>Better English for You</b>
Learn everything you need to know to improve your English!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Slang and Colloquial Expressions

As an ESL learner, it is important to learn as many slang and colloquial expressions as possible. You may not remember what you have learned, but they will come back to you.

Back number: a person with outdated ideas or information.
e.g. If I were you, I wouldn’t take any advice from someone who is a back number

Swell-head: a conceited person.
e.g. Look at his ego, and he’s such a swell-head.

Turkey: a failure; a sham.
e.g. The whole business was a turkey—there were no investors at all!.

Dead set: very determined.
e.g. We were dead set to finish the project despite the shortage of funds.

Jaw breaker: difficult word to pronounce.
e.g. Can you help me with this jaw breaker? It looks like a foreign word to me.

Caught short: caught at a disadvantage.
e.g. The market plunged, and we were caught short just as thought we were on the road to recovery.

Apple-pie order: very orderly; perfect condition.
e.g. When we returned home, we were surprised to find that everything was still in apple-pie order.

Also-ran: someone not likely to win.
e.g. In this presidential election, he was just an also-ran. In less than two months, he called it quit.

Bean time: dinnertime.
e.g. Come on, guys, wash your hands; it’s bean time.

Turn in: go to bed.
e.g. Come on, guys, it’s time to turn in.

To get English Slang and Colloquial Expressions for ESL Learners, get here to get the digital copy and here to get the book copy. 

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Learn How to Write Effectively

Many people have to write, yet they don’t really like to write; some even hate it! Despite their aversion to writing, they may have to write letters, memos, proposals, reports, or e-mails in their work. Whether they like it or not, writing may be a part of their daily task. Are you one of them? If yes, why not make a virtue out of necessity, and learn the basic skill of effective writing?

Writing is about the written word. Not only is the written word part and parcel of daily life, but also has continued to hold its place in the contemporary world—just as Byron, the famous English poet, once said:

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions

According to Byron, words are all powerful. But you have to make them powerful, and this is what effective writing is all about. Writing is basically a communication skill—just like any other life skills. Why not master it to give yourself personal satisfaction in being able to communicate your ideas effectively so others will understand exactly what is on your mind?

Is writing such a difficult and daunting task? Not really. Is writing skill learnable? Absolutely!

Today, many books on how to write effectively are readily available. If you walk into any bookstore, you will find a collection of books on how to write well.

What separates EFFECTIVE WRITING Made Simple from other books on how to improve your writing skill?

First, this book is presented in a simple and easy-to-follow format: it is easy to read and understand. Second, this book is comprehensive: it covers every aspect of good writing—from basic grammar, correct sentences, effective use of words, paragraph development, to style and usage. With many examples and illustrations, this book is like a handy manual at your fingertips for easy reference. Effective writing is an essential communication skill in inter-personal relationships and in almost every profession.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Use These Words Correctly

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.

High / Highly

High: referring to altitude or position; highly: the degree or intensity. 

e.g. The airplane is flying high.
e.g. This disease is highly contagious.

Portend / Portent

Portend: foretell or forewarn; portent: self-importance.

e.g. This political decision may portend more trouble in the coming election.
e.g. The arrogant demeanor reflects the portent of the candidate.

Genteel / Gentle

Genteel: trying to be polite, and imitating good manners; gentle: kind, friendly.

e.g. He is living in genteel poverty (i.e. he is living a lifestyle that imitates that of the rich).
e.g. She is gentle in nature, and people like her.

Exhausting / Exhaustive

Exhausting: using much energy; exhaustive: very thorough or complete.

e.g. The exhausting work of working in the garden made me want to go to bed right away.
e.g. The police conducted an exhaustive investigation into this crime.

Observance / Observation

Observance: following rules and regulations; observation: seeing or paying attention to.

e.g. Tell me about your observation of the future of this company.
e.g. What do you think of the observance of the law on texting while driving?

Precede / Proceed

Precede: come or go before in time or place; proceed: go forward.

e.g. Soaking the beans overnight should precede the cooking.
e.g. We decided to proceed with the plan, even without the funding.

Half-blood / Half-breed

Half-blood: a person having one parent in common with another; half-breed: a person whose parents are of different races.

e.g. He is my half-blood: we have the same mother.
e.g. My girlfriend is a half-breed: her father is Danish, and her mother is Chinese.

Overall / Total

Overall: describing a measurement between two extremities, from one end to the other; total: complete;

e.g  What is the overall length of the bridge?
e.g. The project was a total success (not overall) 

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, February 22, 2019

Learn Some Catch Phrases

Learn Some Catch Phrases

The English language is rich in catch phrases, which have caught on with the public. Learn some catch phrases to enrich your use of the language. 

There’s blood for breakfast: someone’s temper is very bad this morning.

e.g. Your Mom got off on the wrong side of the bed. So behave yourself: there’s blood for breakfast!

Mum's the word

Not a word of the pudding: say nothing about it; Mum’s the word! (don’t say a word; keep it a secret!).

e.g. It’s just between us; Mom’s the word!

And that’s that: that’s the end of the matter.

e.g. I’m not going, and that’s that! (i.e. the matter is closed; no more discussion)

Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do: giving a piece of good advice.

e.g. Bye now! And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do! (i.e. be good)

Go up one: excellent; good for you.

e.g. Good job! Well done! Go up one!

Not if you don’t: a responder to “do you mind?”—i.e. I do mind!

e.g. “Do you mind if I use yours?” “Not if you don’t!”

He thinks he holds it: conceited and vain.

e.g. I don’t like his attitude: he thinks he holds it.

Don’t I know it: how well I know it.

e.g. You don’t have to tell me! Don’t I know it!

Back to the kennel: go way (in a contemptuous way); get back into your box!

e.g. You’re annoying me! Get back into your box!

Don’t pick me up before I fall: don’t criticize prematurely.

e.g. I don’t want to hear a word from you. Don’t pick me up before I fall!

That’s playing it on the heart-strings: that’s being sentimental instead of realistic.

e.g. Falling head over heals for that girl is more like playing it on the heart-strings.

A snake in your pocket: reluctant to buy his friends a round of drinks or to pay the bill

e.g. Now it's your turn to foot the bill! Have you got a snake in your pocket or something?

Spare a rub: let me have some.

e.g. Don’t take everything: spare me a rub!

Every barber knows that: that’s common gossip.

e.g. That is no longer a secret: every barber knows that.

Easy as you know how: it’s easy—if you know how.

e.g. There is nothing to this: it’s easy as you know how!

I see, said the blind man: a humorous way of saying “I understand!”

e.g. You’re telling me! I see, said the blind man.

I’ll take a rain check: I’ll accept, another time, if I may.

e.g. “Come over to my place for a drink.” “Some other time; I’ll take a rain check.”

Where’s the fire?: what’s all the rush?

e.g. What’s the matter with you? Where’s the fire?

Where’s the body?: why look so sad?

e.g. That’s not the end of the world! Where’s the body?

You must hate yourself!: don’t be so conceited!

e.g. The way you talked to her just now—you must hate yourself for doing that.

Head I win—tail you lose: I’m in a win-win situation.

e.g. It’s mine! Head I win—tail you lose!

Like a red rag to a bull: something that provokes annoyance or anger.

e.g. His very presence was like a red rag to a bull—immediately she looked sullen and sulky.

It’ll all come out in the wash: It’ll be OK; it doesn’t really matter.

e.g. Don’t worry about these minor details; they’ll all come out in the wash!

It’s boloney: it’s utter nonsense.

e.g. To do this is in the wrong order is like putting the cart before the horse—it’s boloney!

A fiasco: a complete failure of organization or performance.

e.g. The government’s bailout of the banks was a fiasco.

Hot from the mint: something “brand new” (mint is a place where money is coined).

e.g. The concept is innovative; it’s hot from the mint!

Straight from the horse’s mouth: first-hand news.

e.g. The story is v
ery reliable—it’s straight from the horse’s mouth.
No second prize: used for someone making an unoriginal suggestion

e.g. I must say there’s no second prize for your proposal!

Nothing to do with the case: it’s a lie

e.g. What you're telling me has nothing to do with the case!

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Confusing Words


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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Correct Use of the Comma

Punctuation is a device in writing to help your readers understand better what you have expressed in your writing. There are certain punctuation rules you need to follow in order to make your meaning clear and your sentences effective.

The Comma

(1) The comma is used for clarity in separating different parts (words, phrases, or clauses) of a sentence.
e.g. The box contained some nailsa pair of clovesand a hammer.
The comma before and is optional, but is preferable where clarity may be an issue. The comma is not omitted before and in a series of independent clauses.
e.g. The father took the keyhis children carried the bagand their dog followed them.
(2) The comma separates independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (but).
 e.g. This is an excellent moviebut many people have not seen it.
(3) The comma separates a dependent clause from an independent one.
e.g. Although this is an excellent moviemany people have not seen it.
(4) The comma separates coordinate adjectives (describing the same noun) without the conjunction and.
e.g. a tall, dark, handsome man (coordinating adjectives)
However, the comma is omitted in cluster adjectives (describing the subsequent words)
e.g. a dark brown leather jacket (dark describes brownbrown describes leather; and leather describes jacket)
(5) The comma is used for clarity of meaning.
e.g. At sixty-five, you may consider retirement.
e.gNot getting any sleepthe man felt exhausted.
e.g. To write effectively, you must learn some basic writing skills.
(6) The comma separates a non-essential clause or sentence element from the rest of the sentence.
e.g. Look at this book, which was found on the kitchen floor!
There is only one book here, and it was found on the kitchen floor; which was found on the kitchen floor becomes only additional but not essential information (indicated by the presence of the commas).
Look at another example:
e.g. Look at this book that was found on the kitchen floor!
There are many other books, and this one was found on the kitchen floor; that was found on the kitchen floor is essential information because it identifies which book to look at (indicated by the absence of the commas).
(7) The comma separates modifiers and conjunctive adverbs.
e.g. He was helpful. For examplehe always helped in the kitchen.
e.g. He was a fast runner. In facthe was the fastest on record.
e.g. There are several things you must do. In the first placeyou must have the mindset to be diligent.
e.g. He wanted to pass the exam. Thereforehe worked extra hard.
e.g. She was beautiful. Moreovershe had a taste for fashion.
e.g. He is always helpful. Neverthelessthis time he did not lift a finger to help me.
e.g. He knew he was wrong. Thushe apologized right away.
(8) The comma is NOT used before subordinating conjunctions (afteralthoughbecausebeforeifsince, unless, untilwhenwhere).
e.g. You cannot leave now because the airport is closed. (NO comma)
e.g. Because the airport is closed, you cannot leave now. (comma here)
e.g. Do not call 911 unless it is an emergency. (NO comma)
e.g. Unless it is an emergencydo not call 911. (comma here)
e.g. We left the bar when we finished our drinks. (NO comma)
e.g. When we finished our drinks, we left the bar. (comma here)
Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, February 18, 2019

English Slang

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.
Can’t complain.
It’s okay.
e.g. “How are things going with you?” “Can’t complain.”
Remember me to someone. Say hello to someone for me.
e.g. “Please remember me to your brother
He’s such a nice fellow.” “Yes, I will.”
Can it! Be quiet!
e.g. “That’s enough out of you. Can it!
You can say that again.
That is so true.
e.g. “This is probably one of the coldest winters.” “You can say that again.”
Come off it! 
Stop acting that way.
e.g. “I don’t find that funny. Come off it!
You bet. 
You can be quite certain.
e.g. “Can I have another cup of coffee?” “You bet.”
That’s more like it.
That’s better.
e.g. “Maybe I should work hard on this.” “That’s more like it.”
Also, read my other book on American Idioms
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...