Better English for You

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

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


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Confusing Words

PUNDIT / PUNT
Pundit: a scholar; a learned person.
e.g. My neighbor is a pundit he seems to know everything.
Punt: a flat-bottomed boar, moved by a long pole.
e.g. In Venice, people move around in punts.
LIGHT / LIGHTEN
Light: (as a verb) come across; happen to find.
e.g. I lighted upon a very interesting book in the library.
Lighten (as a verb) brighten up; make something less heavy.
e.g. Can you lighten the dark corridor?
e.g. Your financial support lightened my burden.
 NEURAL / NEUTRAL
Neural: having to do with brain cells or nervous system.
e.g. My brother is a neural scientist.
Neutral: not helping or taking any side.
e.g. He remained neutral in this controversial issue.
CONTRARY / CONTRAST
Contrary: the exact opposite
e.g. You think I did not help him. On the contrary, I did everything I could to help him.
Contrast: comparison.
e.g. Contrast may make you see things very differently
PORTEND / PORTENT
Portend: foretell.
e.g. These minor quakes might portend a big earthquake in the near future.
Portent: a sign or warning; a marvelous thing in the future.
e.g. A bright future is your portent.
CONTRIBUTION / CONTRITION
Contribution: donation; an act of helping and supporting.
e.g. Thank you for your contribution to the project.
Contrition: sincere sorrow for sin.
e.g. The convicted criminal showed contrition when he apologized to the family of the victim.
Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Take Your Child to Read


This 117-page is based on how I taught my daughter to read some 30 years ago. 

Like all proud parents, I was and still am proud of the fact that I could teach her how to read when she just turned three (most children learn at the age of five). The TV and all electronic devices may not be as effective as YOU, the parent, to teach your child through everyday intellectual interactions, games, and activities. 

This book provides 29 steps that could begin as early as your baby is one-month-old. My daughter became a proficient reader when she was five (reading books with little or no illustrations). By seven, she would not let me teach her anything -- she could find everything from books. It paid off and it's worth all the initial efforts in teaching her to become an early reader. Now she's an attorney in the United States.  I wrote this book because she has recently become a mother herself, and that's why I wrote this book to share my experience some three decades ago.

Also, read my book" Make Your Smart Baby Super Smart.

Stephen Lau


Friday, February 15, 2019

Learn Some American Idioms

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

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.

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.

Pay the piper: receive the punishment due
e.g. You just can’t keep on spending without paying the piper.

Ball of fire: an energetic and enthusiastic person
e.g. We all want his presence; he is a ball of fire.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Better English for You

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Sentence Fragments

Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment occurs when the sentence is incomplete. A complete sentence must have a subject and a verb. Do not treat a dependent clause or phrase as if it is an independent one.

e.g. We left the party. Since a storm was coming (a dependent clause).

Improved: We left the party, since a storm was coming.  

e.g. Going through all the documents collected all these years (a dependent phrase). We finally discovered the truth of the matter.

Improved: Going through all the documents collected all these years, we finally discovered the truth of the matter.

e.g. Let us help you. Because we know what the problem is (a dependent clause).

Improved: Let us help you because we know what the problem is.

Improved: We know what the problem is. Let us help you.

Improved: We know what the problem is, so let us help you.
Improved: We know what the problem is; let us help you.

Remember, A semi-colon (;) may be used to join two independent sentences, but not a comma (,). A semi-colon may replace a coordinating conjunction, such as and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet. In other words, you may have the following options when you have two independent sentences:

I will help him. He is my brother. (Keep them separate as two independent sentences.)

I will help him because he is my brother. (Use a subordinating conjunction, e.g. after, when, if, unless, because, for a less important independent sentence.)

I will help him, for he is my brother. (Use a coordinating conjunction, e.g. and, or, nor, but, so, for, yet, to join the independent sentences.)

I will help him; he is my brother. (Use a semi-colon to replace a conjunction.)

I will help him: he is my brother. (Use a colon to replace a conjunction. The difference between a semi-colon and a colon is that a colon always indicates a reason or an explanation.)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Expressions to Improve Conversation

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.

e.g. Come on, make it snappy (i.e. be quick)


e.g. The performance is only so-so. (i.e. okay, but not too good)


e.g. Well, one day you'll tumble to that theory. (i.e. understand suddenly)


e.g. Now is the zero hour. (i.e. time to begin)


e.g. I say, you look poorly today. What's up? (i.e. look unwell)


e.g. Don't give me the small beer. Just tell me what happened. (i.e. unimportant details)



Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Correct Use of Prepositions

BLOW

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 screamed at every one.

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.

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

Walk over: go to where someone is.

e.g.  I have something to give to you. Can you walk over?

Back down: retreat from a position in an argument.

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

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?

Gain in: advance in something.

e.g. As you age, you may gain in wisdom.

Gain on: begin to catch up with.

e.g. We were able to gain in on the car in front of us.

Gain dominion over: achieve authority or control over.
e.g. We were able to gain dominion over our enemies.

Dally over something: waste time doing something.

e.g. Don't dally over your food. Just eat it!

Dally with: flirt with someone.

e.g. Don't dally with that girl; she has no interest in you.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, February 11, 2019

Use of Words

Good writing means trying to avoid the overuse of clich├ęs (overused catch phrases and figures of speech)

e.g. busy NOT busy as a bee

e.g. confront the truth NOT face the music

e.g. everyone NOT each and every one

e.g. finally NOT last but not the least

e.g. firstly NOT first and foremost

e.g. gentle NOT gentle as a lamb

e.g. infrequent or seldom NOT few and far between

e.g. obviously NOT it goes without saying

e.g. seldom NOT once in a blue moon

Avoid weakling modifiers. Most of the following weakling modifiers can be removed without changing the meaning of a sentence:

e.g. actually

e.g. both

e.g. certainly

e.g. comparatively

e.g. definitely

e.g. herself, himself, itself, themselves

e.g. needless to say

e.g. particularly

e.g. per se

e.g. really

e.g. relatively

e.g. very

To use these weakling modifiers occasionally is permissible, but to use them frequently makes your writing ineffective.

Figures of speech add life and vividness to writing. Figures of speech compare one thing abstract with another thing, which is usually literal or concrete.

Metaphors

Metaphors are implied comparisons.

e.g. After listening to the speech of the senator, I was a volcano within although I was still calm without.

e.g. He is a hog at mealtime.

 Similes

Similes are direct comparisons to bring out the imagination of the readers.

e.g. After listening to the speech of the senator, I was like a volcano about to erupt although I was still calm on the outside.

e.g. He eats like a hog.


Similes always use words as or like.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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 punctu...