For You

Stephen Lau


Make an effort to learn some slang and colloquial expressions every day, and then review what you have learned over the weekend. Then proceed to learning more. You may not remember what you have learned, but, rest assured, they will come back to you when you hear them in your social contacts with others. Learning slang and colloquial expressions may play a pivotal role in improving your spoken English, especially if you are not a native speaker of English. 

Click here to get your book: English Slang and Colloquial Expressions for ESL Learners.

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


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.


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

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 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 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 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 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?


Stephen Lau

Copyright© by Stephen Lau


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



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:


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



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: 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


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
Happily Married
Accountability in
Save Your Marriage
Survive and Thrive in Marriage
Balance and Harmony in Marriage
The Bible and Your Marriage
Click here to get your copy.

Dead from the neck upwards
: stupid.

e.g. Don’t follow his example; he’s dead from the neck upwards.

In for it: likely to have trouble.

e.g. If you don't listen to my advice, you're in for it.

Easy on the eye: good looking.

e.g. I say, your girlfriend is easy on the eye.

Killer: a very funny joke.

e.g. That last one was really a killer;  everybody laughed.

Kick back
: relax and enjoy.

e.g I really want to kick back and enjoy the music.

Act your age: behave yourself according to your age.

e.g. You’re almost an adult. Come on, act your age, and stop behaving like a spoiled brat!

In a jiffy: soon.

e.g. The manager will see you in a jiffy.

Next to nothing: hardly anything.

e.g. “Did she leave you anything at all?” “Well, next to nothing.”

Go: attempt.

e.g. Have a go at doing this on your own.

Easy mark: a likely victim.

e.g. If you are so unsuspecting, you may become an easy mark for swindlers.

Bazillion: a great number of.

e.g. The national debt is now in bazillion dollars, and the Congress needs to do something about that.

No way: not at all.

e.g. “Are you going to give him a hand?” “No way; he’ll be on his own.”

: broke, no money.

e.g. Without a job, we are beat, no copper and no bread.

Chip on one’s shoulder: a grudge against.

e.g. She still has a chip on her shoulder: your infidelity some years ago.

Ace someone out: win out over someone.

e.g. I plan to ace him out in the first round of the competition.

Head above water: out of debt.

e.g. Nowadays, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Ask me another: I don't know.

e.g. "Does your daughter want a baby?" "Ask me another!"

No two ways about it: no other alternative.

e.g. The man had to file for bankruptcy; no two ways about it.

By a long chalk: by a great amount.

e.g. He lost his re-election by a long chalk.

Get wise to: discover; realize.

e.g. Soon you’ll get wise to what is really happening under the roof.

Go the whole hog: go through thoroughly.

e.g. The prosecutor went the whole hog when he inspected the murder weapon.

Alive and kicking: in good health.

"How is your grandmother doing?" "Very much alive and kicking."

For a song: very cheaply.

e.g. I got that piece of antique for a song.

Mean-green: money.

e.g. Can I borrow a little mean-green from you?

Smoke eater: a fire fighter.

e.g. Do you really want to be a smoke eater -- a dangerous occupation?

Hard put to it: in difficulty.

e.g. During the Great Depression people were hard put to it to make both ends meet.

Boil over: become angry.
e.g.  Get away from him: he's boiling over with rage.

All that jazz: all that sort of thing; etcetera.

e.g. He was telling everyone about his success in real estate investment and all that jazz. Well, we all heard that before.

Shag: depart.

e.g. I gotta shag now!

Kick the bucket: die.

e.g. He kicked the bucket when he smashed his car into the wall.

Keep one's cool: calm down and in control.

e.g. The burglar was able to keep his cool when he was stopped by the policeman.

Jammed up: in trouble.

e.g. He got himself jammed up (arrested) with the police

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 we thought we were on the road to recovery.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Click here to get your book: English Slang and Colloquial Expressions.