BETTER ENGLISH

For You

Stephen Lau


WHAT IS EFFECTIVE WRITING?

Effective writing is made up of effective sentences that must show some of the following characteristics:

Accuracy

An effective sentence must be grammatically correct. This includes observing the rules of grammar with respect to using the right parts of speech, agreement between subjects and verbs, between pronouns and antecedents, and correct spelling.

Emphasis

The arrangement of words in a sentence can determine which idea receives the most emphasis. To stress a word, place it at the end of a sentence or at the beginning of a sentence. A word or phrase receives the least emphasis when it is placed in the middle of a sentence.

e.g. For many families, foreclosure is the only option. (least emphatic)

e.g. Foreclosure, for many families, is the only option. (emphatic)

e.g. There is only one option for many families: foreclosure. (emphatic)

The use of inversion (reversing the normal order of words in a sentence) is another way of emphasizing an idea.

e.g. Parents who give their children a good moral education are wise. (normal order)

e.g. Wise are the parents who give their children a good moral education. (inversion)

e.g. Those who live without worries of daily problems are happy. (normal order)

e.g. Happy are those who live without worries of daily problems. (inversion)

Remember, not all sentences need special emphasis; effective writing generally contains a mix of some sentences in natural order and others re-arranged for special effects.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau
PREPOSITIONAL 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

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

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

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

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?

PREPOSITIONAL WORDS AND PHRASES

Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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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.

Also, read my other book on
American Idioms.

Stephen Lau


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THE USE OF TENSES

To write well, you need to know how to use English tenses correctly. Tenses are difficult to many because in many languages tenses are not used to express "time" or the "relationship of sequence"; instead, adverbs, such as "yesterday", "tomorrow", "soon" etc. are used.

To learn how to use English tenses correctly, you must have a perception of the "time" element.

Let's take a look at present tense, present continuous tense, present perfect tense, past tense, and past perfect tense with the following examples:

PAST<----------------------------------------------------->PRESENT

e.g. I am a U.S. citizen. (present tense)
                           
e.g. I haven been a U.S. citizen for many years. (present perfect tense-I was and still am)

e.g. I live in the United States. (present tense-a fact)  

e.g. I am living in the United States. (present continuous tense-sometimes I live in other places, but right now I am living in the United States)

e.g. I lived in the United States. (past tense-a fact in the past)

e.g. I had lived in the United States for many years, but now I no longer do. (past perfect tense-an action that took place for some time in the past)

Can you now tell the differences between the following sentences?

e.g. I am still a student in this community college.

e.g. I was a student in this community college last year.

e.g. I have been a student in this community college since 2016.

e.g. I had been a student in this community college between 2010 and 2013.

Hopefully, the above examples have demonstrated how you should use some of the English tenses correctly.

Read my book Effective Writing Made Simple.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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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
Think.

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: basic it is easy to read and understand. Second, this book is comprehensive: it covers every aspect of good writing-from 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

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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!

CATCH PHRASES AND COLLOQUIAL EXPRESSIONS

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau
 
Find out more about Stephen Lau:
Better English Speaking and Writing for All
Having problems with some English words and phrases that may look similar but are different in meaning?
Learn some everyday American idioms, especially if you are an ESL learner.
Learn some English slang and colloquial expressions, not only to use them but also to understand what they mean.
To write effectively, you need to know the essentials of grammar, the correct choice of words, the different types of sentences, the development of paragraphs, the use of style and strategy to achieve your writing purpose.

Most importantly, you learn how to write by writing to overcome your fear of writing.

So, make your writing easier and more effective.
Learn common prepositional English words and phrases that are daily used.
SELECTED POSTS
Learn Some American Idioms


Learn Some Slang and Colloquial Expressions


Learn Some Confusing Words and Phrases
Learn Some Prepositional Words and Phrases


Learn Some Essentials of Effective Writing
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HOW TO START WRITING

Beginning to write begins with an idea or a topic you want to share with or to communicate to others.

Choice

You must have an inordinate interest in that idea or topic for various reasons: you are passionate about it; you strongly believe it is right or wrong; you want to analyze or discuss it in detail; you wish others may share  or even support your views. Or, simply, you may not have a choice: you have been assigned to write about the subject.

Brainstorming

You must brainstorm that idea or topic. Your mind may come up with many thoughts about that idea or topic. You jot down all your relevant thoughts simply by asking yourself some relevant questions regarding what you are going to write about:

What happened?

How did it happen?

When did it happen?

Why did it happen?

What does it mean?

What is its significance?

What is it similar to?

What is it different from?

Is it true or false?

Are there examples?

What do people think?

Who do you think?

Keep a journal for your brainstorming. The word “journal” comes from French, meaning “daily.” A journal is a day-to-day record of what you see, do, hear, think, and feel. Use a journal to jot down any idea that comes to your mind. Regular recording enhances your power of observation, which improves your writing skill.

Stephen Lau    
Copyright© by Stephen Lau
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              THE GRAMMAR BASICS

Effective writing means knowing, learning, and understanding the grammar basics

Knowing the Grammatical Terms

Knowing the rules of grammar does not mean you will become a good writer, but it will certainly help you avoid bad writing. In addition, knowing the essentials of grammar may give you the following advantages:

Avoiding grammatical errors

Providing clarity to your writing

Giving credibility to your readers

Knowing grammatical terms is essential for effective writing because these grammatical terms provide a common language for talking about good writing.

Knowing the Eight Parts of Speech

Knowing grammar basics means knowing the eight parts of speech in English words and writing:

NOUNS

A noun names a person, place, or thing.

A noun can be singular (referring to only one) or plural (referring to more than one). Generally, you make a singular noun plural by adding an “s”; however, some nouns do not follow this general rule:

e.g. enemy becomes enemies

e.g. goose becomes geese

e.g. hero becomes heroes

e.g. sheep remains sheep

Some nouns are countable, e.g. books, while some are not, e.g. hunger.

A noun can be possessive (indicating ownership).

e.g. Tom and Jerry’s house (NOT Tom’s and Jerry’s house)

e.g. Jesus’ sayings (NOT Jesus’s sayings)

e.g. the bottom of the page (NOT the page’s bottom)

e.g. the characters of Star Wars (NOT Star Wars’ characters)

A noun MUST AGREE with a verb in a sentence, that is, a singular noun requiring a singular verb, and a plural noun requiring a plural verb.

e.g. The data indicate (NOT indicates) that there is a strong demand for this type of goods. (data is the plural form of datum.)

e.g. The criteria for selection are based (NOT is) on the recommendations of the trustees. (criteria is plural)

e.g. Human rights is an important issue in this country. (singular: human rights treated as a single unit and thus requiring a singular verb)

e.g.Human rights are ignored in many parts of the world. (plural: human rights considered individual rights of people)

e.g. Four thousand dollars is a lot of money to me. (singular: a monetary unit)

A proper noun names a specific person, place, or event, e.g. Tom Cruise, Chicago, and World War I.

A proper noun is always capitalized, e.g. The Great Depression (BUT an economic depression).

VERBS

A verb expresses an action or a state of being.

Action verbs give life to sentences.

e.g. The police officer shot the suspect.

e.g. The bomb exploded.

e.g. He jumped for joy when he heard the good news.

Linking verbs complete sentences but without expressing any action.

e.g. We were unhappy.

e.g. My sister is a school teacher.

e.g. I have no money.

Some verbs can be both linking and action verbs.

e.g. The dish smells delicious. (The linking verb links to the quality of the smell; therefore, it is WRONG to say: “The dish smells deliciously.”)

e.g. The security guard’s dog smelled the man’s luggage. (an action verb)

A transitive verb carries an object; an intransitive verb does not.

e.g. The burglar took the money. (direct object: money)

e.g. My parents sent me some money. (direct object: money; indirect object: me )

e.g. The child is sleeping like a baby. (an intransitive verb)

Many verbs can be both transitive and intransitive.

e.g. We are eating our dinner. (transitive)

e.g. They are eating. (intransitive)

e.g. She sings folk songs. (transitive)

e.g. She sings beautifully. (intransitive)

Only transitive verbs can be used in the passive voice.

e.g. The suspect was shot by the police officer.

e.g. The money was taken by the burglar.

e.g. The money was sent by my parents.

Of course, there are other parts of speech you need to learn, as well, including adverbs, pronouns, adjectives, and prepositions etc. Once you are familiar with the grammar basics, then you can begin writing. With more practice, you can become an expert in effective writing.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lauouble click to edit