BETTER ENGLISH

For You

Stephen Lau


GOOD WRITING

What Is Good Writing?

Good writing means trying to avoid the overuse of clichés (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

LEARN SOME IDIOMS
LEARN SOME SLANG AND COLLOQUIAL EXPRESSIONS
CORRECT CHOICE OF WORDS
CORRECT USE OF PREPOSITIONS
AVOIDING SENTENCE ERRORS
EFFECTIVE PUNCTUATION
BASIC ENGLISH GRAMMAR
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Idioms are words and phrases in a language that have come into existence for a variety of reasons, some obvious enough, some inexplicable, but most of them appropriately and delightfully characteristic of the race that created them.

American idioms are no exception; they reflect American culture at every social level. They are used in everyday life, in speaking and in writing, in movies and on television, and by people from all walks of life. Some of them may be unfamiliar even to some Americans, especially ESL (English as a Second Language) learners.

In this book, there are approximately nine-hundred American idioms selected for ESL learners to provide them with a better understanding of American English.

Learn American idioms so that you may know what they mean when they are used by Americans, and use them in their right context in your speaking and writing in your daily contacts with Americans. Each American idiom comes with a simple explanation followed by one or more examples, showing you how to use it.

Make an effort to learn ten American idioms a day, and then review what you have learned over the weekend. Then proceed to learning another ten, and so on and so forth. You may not remember all the American idioms that you have learned, but, rest assured, they will come back to you when you hear them in your social contacts with Americans. Learning American idioms is as important as learning the vocabulary, the sentence structure, and the grammar usage of American English. If you plan to stay in the United States, learning American idioms is a must.
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.

Words are neither effective nor ineffective; they just impart different meanings to the sentences in which they are used. It is the writer's effective use of words and phrases that makes sentences effective or ineffective.

The English language is made up of nearly a million words and phrases. A writer, especially one whose English is not his or her first language, may face two major problems in writing: not knowing "enough" words; and not knowing how to choose the "right" words. Writing is made up of words.

Effective writing requires having a good stock of vocabulary, as well as selecting the most suitable words and phrases to express the intended ideas. There are many English words and phrases that are frequently confused and misused by ESL learners. This book provides hundreds of those words and phrases with examples to show how they should be used correctly.

Prepositions are words that indicate the relationships between various elements within a sentence. In formal English, prepositions are almost always followed by objects.

e.g. The policeman shot (verb) the man (object) with (preposition identifying the man being shot) a knife.

e.g. I put (verb) the pen (direct object) on (preposition indicating the position of the pen) the table (indirect object).

e.g. I put (verb) the pen (direct object) under (preposition indicating the position of the pen) the table (indirect object).

Prepositional phrases always consist of the object and the preposition. Prepositional phrases can act as adjectives or adverbs. When they are used as adjectives, they modify nouns and pronouns in the same way single-word adjectives do. When prepositional phrases are used as adverbs, they also act in the same way single-word adverbs and adverb clauses do, modifying adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs.

Prepositional words and phrases are difficult, especially for ESL learners, because different prepositions may impart different meanings to the prepositional words and phrases. Even the same preposition may have different meanings to the same verb.

Break in
: enter without permission; interrupt; train; get used to something new.

e.g. A burglar attempted to break in last night but without success.

e.g. Don’t break in while someone is talking; it’s rude!

e.g. The manager has to break the new employees in so that they may know what to do.
e.g. You should break your new car in before you drive on the highway.

This book has hundreds of prepositional words and phrases with explanations and examples, just like the ones illustrated above, for you reference. Improve your English with your mastery of prepositional words and phrases.
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Which of the following sentences are incorrect?

(1) The Bible tells us to follow Jesus’ teachings.
(2) Follow William Bates’s methods of good vision.
(3) You must do this for your own conscience’s sake.
(4) The Old Testament explains in detail Moses’ Ten Commandments.
(5) A wise dog scratches it’s own fleas.
(6) Hurry up! It’s getting late.
(7) She is Charles’s girlfriend.

Incorrect

You must do this for your own conscience’s sake.
A wise dog scratches it’s own fleas.

Explanation

Always form the possessive of singular nouns and abbreviations by adding an apostrophe and an s. This rule applies even if the noun or abbreviation ends in s.
The exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names, such as Jesus and Moses, and such forms as for conscience’ sake, and for righteousness’ sake.

It’s” means “it is”, while “its” is a possessive.

Which of the following sentences are incorrect?

(1) Coming home from school yesterday, I met my cousin who came to see me.
(2) My cousin is older than I. An undergraduate of Harvard University who is studying medicine.
(3) The man was screaming for help. No response.
(4) I had worked at the computer for more than ten hours, I felt completely exhausted.

Incorrect

My cousin is older than I. An undergraduate of Harvard University who is studying medicine.

Explanation

“An undergraduate of Harvard University who is studying medicine” is a subordinate clause, which has to be attached to a complete sentence.

My cousin, who is older than I, is an undergraduate studying medicine at Harvard University. (improved)

My cousin is older than I. He is an undergraduate studying medicine at Harvard University. (improved)

Incorrect

I had worked at the computer for more than ten hours, I felt completely exhausted.

Explanation

Never join two independent sentences with a comma. Instead, use a period (full-stop). You may use a colon for explanation, a semi-colon to replace a conjunction, a coordinate conjunction (e.g. and, but, or, nor, for, so yet), or simply use a full-stop to have two independent sentences.

e.g. I felt completely exhausted: I had worked at the computer for more than ten hours. (improved: the colon explaining why I was exhausted)
e.g. I felt completely exhausted: I had worked at the computer for more than ten hours. (improved: the semi-colon replacing the subordinate conjunction “because” or “for”)
e.g. I felt completely exhausted because I had worked at the computer for more than ten hours.(improved)
e.g. I had worked at the computer for more than ten hours, and I felt completely exhausted. (improved)
e.g. I had worked at the computer for more than ten hours. I felt completely exhausted. (improved)

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The English language is made up of WORDS, which are nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and articles. The combination of these words forms SENTENCES.

To learn and master English, you must learn its grammar, which consists of rules for you to follow when using and combining the words, especially when you write.

1. THE ENGLISH SENTENCE

There are 3 types: 1.1.simple sentence; 1.2.compound sentence; 1.3.complex sentence.

A sentence is made up words: a subject; and a verb. It may or may not have an object.

A subject or an object can be nouns or pronouns.

Nouns are names of animals (e.g. bird, cat, snake), emotions (e.g. anger, joy, sadness), ideas (e.g. belief, theory, understanding), people (e.g. man, policeman, soldier), things (e.g. bottle, chair, knife), and so on.


Pronouns are words that represent or stand for nouns: I, you, we, they, she, it, and they.

e.g. I = teacher

e.g. You = student

e.g. They = soldiers

Verb indicate being or an action:

e.g. He is a policeman.

e.g. They are children.


e.g. A bird sings.

e.g. A knife cuts.

A verb may also come in different forms or tenses.

A transitive verb has an object (which is a noun or pronoun); an intransitive verb does not have an object. Some verbs are only transitive verbs, and some are both transitive and intransitive. A good dictionary tells you whether a verb is either or both.

e.g. He laughs all the time. (only transitive)

e.g. He laughs at you all the time. (you is the object of the preposition at, and not the object of laughs; so "laugh" is considered an intransitive verb.)

e.g. She sings a song. (transitive)

e.g. She sings. (intransitive)

A sentence must have a subject and a verb, although the subject may be implied or understood:

e.g. (You) Take your money.

e.g. (Nobody is allowed to smoke here) No smoking here!

The subject must agree with the verb:

e.g. I am; he is; it is; she is; they are; we are; you are.


Add "s" to a noun to make it plural or indicate more than one:

e.g. "a boy"; "many boys"; "two boys"

But there are many exceptions to the rule:

e.g. "kiss" becomes "kisses"; "tax" becomes "taxes"

e.g. "half" becomes "halves"; "man" becomes "men"; "child" becomes "children"

In English, description words, such as this and that, pair up with singular nouns, while these and those, with plural nouns.


e.g. this apple; that student; these children; those flowers


Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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Colon and semi-colon are often used in writing. What are their differences?

Colon is used mainly for the following reasons:

(1) To introduce a quotation or a dialogue, e.g. The President said: "Racial discrimination should not be tolerated."  Of course, a comma can also be used. The only difference is that a colon is stronger than a comma in introducing what follows.

(2) To emphasize what is to follow, e.g. He wanted only one thing: money.

(3) To explain something, e.g. The manager works very hard: he never leaves his office before 8 p.m.

Semi-colon is used for the following reasons:

(1) To replace the use of coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor,so, yet), e.g. He worked very hard; he passed his test with flying colors. (He worked hard, so he passed his test with flying colors.)

(2) To separate long sentences, e.g. When he finished his work, he went to the mall, where he spent hours shopping; he was very tired but he did not want to go home because he had an argument with his wife that morning.

(3) To introduce sentences for balance, e.g. In the morning, she does some stretch exercises; in the afternoon, she goes to the gym; in the evening, she goes to a yoga class.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau


THE USE OF ITALICS

In English, sometimes words and phrases are slanted to the right--the use of italics. Effective writing requires the use of italics appropriately. The following  shows how to use italics effectively:


(1) Use italics for titles.

e.g. The film The Interview has caused much controversy.
e.g. Have you read Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace?

(2) Use italics for foreign words. The English language has acquired many foreign words, such as chef from France, and spaghetti from Italy, that have become part of the English language and they do not require to be put in italics.  However, many foreign words still require to be out in italics.

e.g. Gato is a Spanish word for cat.
e.g. Balance is expressed in the concept of yin and yang.

(3) Use italics for names of aircraft, ships, and trains.

e.g. Titanic  hit an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage.

(4) Use italics for emphasis, but avoid its overuse:

e.g. It is easy to find out how you can avoid credit card debt, but it is difficult to actually do it.

(5) Use italics for words, phrases, letters, and numbers used as words.

e.g. The alphabet b and d are easily confused by young children.
e.g. Do you know the difference between allude and delude?
e.g. Many people consider 13 an unlucky number.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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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.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau


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Essentials of Effective Writing

Effective writing begins with a desire not only to write but also to write well. Desire galvanizes your efforts to improve your writing skill no matter what.

There is no formula for success in writing. The key to success is “practice, practice, practice.” After all, writing is a skill; like any other skill, you must practice it before you can master it. You learn from your mistakes, and practicing writing improves your writing. If you write everyday, you will become a more competent and proficient writer. If you learn the mechanics and techniques of writing, your writing will become more effective. It is just a matter of time. And it is just that simple.

Writing is a learning experience for all. Anybody who wants to write learns how to write. One learns how to write by writing-just as one learns how to walk by walking. Everybody can write, as long as the heart is willing to learn and master the skill of writing.

However, to be a good writer, you must possess certain innate qualities:

An interest in words-the subtle shades of meaning between words; the power of words; the sound and rhythm of words

A knowledge of and passion for the subject-writing what you love and loving what you write

A creative mind-the creativity to visualize with vivid imagination, and to see things from different perspectives; the ability to see the relationship of the whole to its various parts

Personal discipline-time set aside to write, to re-write, to edit, and to re-edit

Willingness to learn and to improve-mastering basic writing skill through repeated practice and editing

Remember this: failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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Essentials of Effective Writing

Effective writing begins with a desire not only to write but also to write well. Desire galvanizes your efforts to improve your writing skill no matter what.

There is no formula for success in writing. The key to success is “practice, practice, practice.” After all, writing is a skill; like any other skill, you must practice it before you can master it. You learn from your mistakes, and practicing writing improves your writing. If you write everyday, you will become a more competent and proficient writer. If you learn the mechanics and techniques of writing, your writing will become more effective. It is just a matter of time. And it is just that simple.

Writing is a learning experience for all. Anybody who wants to write learns how to write. One learns how to write by writing-just as one learns how to walk by walking. Everybody can write, as long as the heart is willing to learn and master the skill of writing.

However, to be a good writer, you must possess certain innate qualities:

An interest in words-the subtle shades of meaning between words; the power of words; the sound and rhythm of words

A knowledge of and passion for the subject-writing what you love and loving what you write

A creative mind-the creativity to visualize with vivid imagination, and to see things from different perspectives; the ability to see the relationship of the whole to its various parts

Personal discipline-time set aside to write, to re-write, to edit, and to re-edit

Willingness to learn and to improve-mastering basic writing skill through repeated practice and editing

Remember this: failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Click here for more.

Essentials of Effective Writing

Effective writing begins with a desire not only to write but also to write well. Desire galvanizes your efforts to improve your writing skill no matter what.

There is no formula for success in writing. The key to success is “practice, practice, practice.” After all, writing is a skill; like any other skill, you must practice it before you can master it. You learn from your mistakes, and practicing writing improves your writing. If you write everyday, you will become a more competent and proficient writer. If you learn the mechanics and techniques of writing, your writing will become more effective. It is just a matter of time. And it is just that simple.

Writing is a learning experience for all. Anybody who wants to write learns how to write. One learns how to write by writing-just as one learns how to walk by walking. Everybody can write, as long as the heart is willing to learn and master the skill of writing.

However, to be a good writer, you must possess certain innate qualities:

An interest in words-the subtle shades of meaning between words; the power of words; the sound and rhythm of words

A knowledge of and passion for the subject-writing what you love and loving what you write

A creative mind-the creativity to visualize with vivid imagination, and to see things from different perspectives; the ability to see the relationship of the whole to its various parts

Personal discipline-time set aside to write, to re-write, to edit, and to re-edit

Willingness to learn and to improve-mastering basic writing skill through repeated practice and editing

Remember this: failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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Face-off
: a confrontation.

e.g. After my face-off with the manager, I quit the job.

Screw around
: waste time.

e.g. Stop screwing around! Find something to do!

Cop out: plead guilty.
e.g. I decided not to cop out and got a lawyer instead.

Beefcake:
a muscular man.

e.g. She has been dating a beefcake.
e.g. He goes to the gym regularly because he wants to be a beefcake.

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.

Beat about the bush; prevaricate; not being direct.
e.g. Don't beat about the bush; tell me what's on your mind.

Better than a slap in the eye: okay, acceptable.
e.g. Not all the goals were accomplished. Well, at least the project was completed on time; it's better than a slap in the eye.

Poison
: drink..
e.g. "What's your poison?" "I'll have a gin tonic."

Full bang
: full speed.
e.g. You have to go on full bang if you don't want to miss your flight.


By a long chalk
: by a great amount.
e.g. He lost his reelection by a long chalk.

Choosy: difficult to please.
e.g. Nobody likes to deal with you: you're a choosy customer.

Come clean: confess everything.
e.g. Under the police interrogation, the man finally came clean.

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Stephen Lau

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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 movie star looks decorous in that simple but elegant dress.

Indoor / Indoors

Indoor
is an adjective; indoors is an adverb.
e.g. Bowling is an indoor game.
e.g. It's going to rain; let's go indoors.

Accountable to
/ Accountable for

Accountable to
someone; accountable for something
(meaning "responsible for").
e.g. The CEO is accountable to the Board; he has to be accountable for all his business decisions.

Hail / Hale


Hail
means to greet or salute.

e.g. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."

Hale means healthy and strong.
e.g. A man is hale when his complexion is rosy

Terminable / Terminal

Terminable
: can be ended.

e.g. Your job is only temporary and terminable at any time.

Terminal: at the end.
e.g. The doctor told the patient that she had terminal cancer.

Genteel / Gentle

Genteel
: well-bred, polite; imitating the lifestyle of the rich.

e.g. Your friend is genteel. Is he really rich?
e.g. All along he has been living in genteel poverty. He is not practical.

Gentle:  soft and well-behaved.
e.g. He is a gentleman: he is especially gentle with the ladies.

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Stephen Lau

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All at sea: confused
e.g. The lawyer was all at sea when he read the two conflicting reports of the incident.

Handwriting on the wall: a warning
e.g. If the Governor had seen the handwriting on the wall, he would not have adopted those unpopular proposals.

Vested interest
: a personal stake
e.g. He showed a vested interest in his uncle’s business.

Get a handle on something
: get control or understanding of a situation
e.g. As soon as he heard the crisis, the President tried to put all the facts together to get a handle on the underlying cause of the crisis.

Make or break
: succeed or fail
e.g. This book will make or break my career as a writer.

Half a mind
: a thought about something but without specific details
e.g. I have half a mind to close the store since the business has not been good.

Above all
: most importantly
e.g. Above all, you must have a valid visa if you wish to continue to stay in the United States.

Go for broke: make great effort; risk everything
e.g. To win his re-election, the Mayor would go for broke.

Had better: ought to, should
e.g. You had better finish your homework before going to bed.

Then and there: on the spot
e.g. As soon as the candidate finished his speech, he was shot then and there.

Mind one’s p’s and q’s
: pay attention to one’s manners
e.g. When you meet the President, you must mind your p’s and q’s.

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Stephen Lau

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SINGULAR AND PLURAL NOUNS

In English, there are many singular nouns that represent a group; that is, you do not add an “s” to them, even though they are plural in number. In addition, their pronouns are usually singular.

e.g. You must talk to the committee and its members about this issue.

Some of the most common singular nouns representing many components are as follows:

anger, appreciation, baggage, concentration, confusion, consideration, corruption,  cost, devotion, energy, entertainment, envy, equipment, evidence, furniture, frustration, gossip, help, homework, humanity, humility, imagination, independence, jewelry, justice, knowledge, luggage, mail, offspring, proof, recovery, respect, sleep, slang, software, violence, waste

Remember, they do not need an “s” and their respective pronouns are also singular.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by 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
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
PARALLEL SENTENCE STRUCTURE

An effective sentence has to be parallel in structure in order to give the balance to the sentence. Therefore, when composing your sentence, be mindful of its parallel structure.

e.g. The story is about stealing money from a bank and how you hide it. (not parallel)

e.g. The story is about stealing money from a bank and hiding it. (improved: it is about stealing and hiding money)

e.g. My computer knowledge is better than you. (it does not make sense)

e.g. My computer knowledge is better than yours. (your computer knowledge)

e.g. I know computer more than you do. (I know computer more than you know computer - parallel)

e.g. I know computer more than you. (ambiguous i.e. meaning unclear: I know computer more than I know you OR I know computer more than you know computer.)

e.g.  I like him more than her. (correct: it means I like him more than I like her)

e.g. I like him more than she. (correct: it means I like him more than she likes him)

e.g. He promised his mother to finish his homework, to clean the house, and going to bed early.

e.g. He promised his mother to finish his homework, to clean the house, and to go to bed early.(improved)

e.g. I had decided to leave the country rather than staying behind.

e.g. I decided to leave the country rather than to stay behind. (improved)

e.g. Rather than staying behind, I had decided to leave the country. (improved)

Just be careful when you construct your sentences; watch out for the similar elements within the same sentence, and avoid any ambiguity.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau