English Words and Phrases Frequently Confused and Misused by Stephen Lau This book is written for those who may have problems with English words and phrases that look similar but are different in meanings. Learn those words and phrased that are frequently confused and misused in writing.
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Prepositional Words and Phrases for ESL Learners by Stephen Lau Prepositions are words that indicate the relationships between various elements in a sentence; they are one of the most difficult parts in learning English.
This 122-page book has hundreds of common prepositional words and phrases with explanations and examples.
To download the digital book, click here; to get the paperback, click here.
Stephen Lau recommends these books . . . . .
Correct the Incorrect
Look at some incorrect sentences.
Understand why they are incorrect, and try to correct them.
Correct the incorrect, and learn how to write correct sentences.
Learning English, especially as a second language, is not an easy task because there are skills in listening, speaking, and writing that you have to master.
In listening and speaking English, one has to adjust to certain phonetic sounds that are unique to the English language. In writing English, one has to learn new words and phrases, as well as idioms and colloquial expressions, in addition to the complexity of the English grammar.
Having said that, knowing the basics, and following the right pathways, you can still master ESL and speak and write as if English is your native language. Learning ESL is all about practice, practice, and more practice, with the right know-how.
Learning the Different Types of Sentences
The simple sentence
The simple sentence is made up of a subject and a predicate (a verb, or a verb + noun/adjective/adverb/preposition etc. to complete the sentence).
e.g. The woman (subject) went (predicate) to Mexico.
e.g. Washington D.C. (subject) is(predicate) the capital of the United States.
Identifying the subject and the predicate helps you in subject-predicate agreement.
e.g. Drinking a glass of warm milk and taking a hot bath help me sleep better. (NOT helps)
e.g. Every house in the neighborhood has been searched. (NOT have)
e.g. Each of the students was given an assignment. (NOT were)
The simple sentence (usually short) is used to make a statement, or to emphasize an idea.
However, overuse of short simple sentences may result in choppy sentences.
e.g. It was a beautiful day. The sun was warm. We wanted to go for a walk. We decided to go to the lake. (choppy)
e.g. It was a warm and beautiful day, and we decided to go to the lake for a walk. (improved)
The compound sentence
The compound sentence is made up two or more simple sentences joined together by a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, for, so, yet), or a punctuation mark (colon, semicolon).
e.g. The man took the money, and (he) ran away.
e.g. You finish this work, or you don’t get paid!
e.g. I don’t want to go, nor will I.
e.g. He was poor, but he was happy.
e.g. We were thirsty, for the weather was hot.
e.g. He worked hard so he passed his test.
e.g. The boy practiced very hard, yet he did not make the swim team.
The compound sentence is used to show relationship, sequence, or importance.
The complex sentence
The complex sentence is made up two or more simple sentences joined together by a subordinating conjunction (after, before, since, when, although).
e.g. After the man took the money, he ran away.
The emphasis is more on he ran away than on the man took the money; the complex sentence here not only shows the sequence of the action but also focuses on he ran away “after” taking the money.
Compare: “The man took the money, and (he) ran away.” In this compound sentence, the emphasis is on the man took the money as well as (he) ran away.
e.g. Before the postman came, the woman had already finished writing the letter.
e.g. When the postman came, the woman gave him the letter.
Subjunctive moodindicates making a hypothetical statement (i.e. not true).
e.g. If I were you, I would do it. (Past tense for a present action to indicate something contrary to the fact)
If the weather were fine, we would have a picnic today. It’s just too bad that it’s raining so hard. (We are not having a picnic because of the bad weather.)
e.g. If he were the president, he would do it.(He is not the president, and therefore he will not do it.)
e.g. If you worked hard now, you would pass the exam. (You are not working hard now, and so you will not pass the exam; it is merely an assumption. Compare: “If you work hard, you will pass the exam.” Here, it becomes a condition, and therefore there is a probability that you will pass the exam.)
e.g. If pigs had wings, they would fly. (Pigs do not have wings, and therefore they will never fly.)
Subjunctive mood can also be used in the past tense. In that case, the past perfect tense (instead of the past tense) is used to show the hypothetical statement in the past.
e.g. If he had been the president, he would have done it.(He was not the president, and so he did not do it.)
e.g. If you had worked hard last year, you would havepassed the exam. (You did not work hard last year, and so you failed in the exam last year.)
e.g. If the boss had told you, you would not have made the mistake. (Too bad he did not tell you, and you made the mistake.)
Appropriate words and phrases 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:
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:
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).
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 effective writing.