I'm learning English as a foreign language. In one of my writings, one paragraph goes:

But it's not saying we just indulge ourselves and turn into wild beasts. We train our brain hard so that we are able to control the burst of our emotions. We go to schools, take courses and repeatedly remind ourselves to be rational, noting that impulsive acts often causes troubles, and constant emotion explosions are childish behavior deviating us away from the road to success. After about two decades, maybe, we finish our process of “growing up” and finally think we have the ability to control our emotions. We know we can not leave without apology when feeling the call of nature in conducting conferences, or we know even if the person you hate the most is standing right in front of you, you are not supposed to pull a dagger and just start to stab him/her. But thats all trivial in compare to the skills we learned to analyze a problem and reach the answer using an intellectual process, and limit the participating of raw emotions.

I smell uncomfortable in this one, do you guys have any suggestions to polish it a little? I feel that my vocabulary is not so accurate and my rhythm for sentence is not good enough too.

You can find the complete writing here: http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_60d9f9bc0100pq3y.html

  • What's the context of this paragraph? It's obviously meant to follow up something else. Mar 23, 2011 at 5:32
  • 1
    I replied below in terms of editing, but I wanted to comment that I disagree with you that learning to control our emotions is easy compared to learning how to solve problems. We are fundamentally emotional creatures, and ignoring or discounting the importance of emotion is to limit the experiences that we're open to in life. Mastering our thoughts and emotions is HARD. Certainly much harder than learning to problem-solve.
    – rianjs
    Mar 23, 2011 at 14:43

3 Answers 3

  1. In English "brain" typically refers to the organ itself. The gray and white matter; the neurons. You probably want to say that we train our minds. In English, the mind is what controls our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The brain is merely the vehicle for our cognitive processes. I don't know if other languages account for the difference between the brain and the mind in this way.
  2. Emotional explosions are generally referred to as "outbursts".
  3. "Deviating us" doesn't really make sense. It might be correct, but it doesn't "feel" right.
  4. "Cannot" is one word.
  5. Don't be afraid to use contractions. A lot of English teachers tell folks not to use them when they're writing, but they're wrong. Not using contractions leads to stiff writing.
  6. You're missing an apostrophe in "that's all trivial".
  7. "Schools" should probably be singular.: We're not talking about a specific school or schools we attended, but rather the idea of school.
  8. Same for "troubles". Trouble is an idea; we're not interested in the specifics unless we're telling a funny story.
  9. You do some weird hashing with your subjects by alternating between "we" and "you". You need to be consistent; "we" probably works better in this case, because you're talking about the human condition, and you are, after all, one of us. :)
  10. Specific problems can be "trivial", but concepts are usually "easy". I don't know why this distinction, and I suppose both are technically right, but when writing, probably stick with this rule of thumb.

Here's how I would re-write your paragraph:

It's not saying that we should just indulge ourselves and turn into wild beasts. We train our minds so that we're able to control our emotional outbursts: we go to school, take classes, learn, and remind ourselves to be rational, noting that impulsive acts often lead to trouble, and that letting our emotions control us is childish, and distracts us from our goals. After two decades or so, we're done "growing up", and we think we finally have the ability to control ourselves. We know we can't interrupt a meeting without apologizing, and we know that even if the person we hate the most is standing right in front of us, we can't give in to our baser instincts.* But this is easy compared to the skills we learn to analyze a problem and come to a solution.

*Alternatively, you could stick with what you've written, modified a little bit: ...even if the person we hate the most is standing right in front of us, we can't pull a dagger to stab him or her.

  • 1
    Whether to use contractions would depend on whether trVoldemort is writing in a style that allows them. Some, like APA, frown on them. But I agree with you that their absence can make writing stiff. Mar 23, 2011 at 15:07
  • Good point. Given the relatively informal nature of the paragraph, I assumed that it was a free-form essay. The type you'd write in a high school English class or what have you.
    – rianjs
    Mar 23, 2011 at 16:29
  • Thank you so much for your patience. These suggestions really give me a lot to think. Talking about "ideas" and "entities" (is this right term?) How can I tell when to use which?
    – xzhu
    Mar 24, 2011 at 9:07
  • Oh, sorry, in case this discussion may be off-topic for this site, I leave my email address here: [email protected]. Your reply will be highly appreciated!
    – xzhu
    Mar 24, 2011 at 9:08
  • For example: "We all have job" or "jobs"? How about "we all have family/families"?
    – xzhu
    Mar 24, 2011 at 9:15

I think the actual content and overall style is fine, but you're having some trouble with consistent grammar.

For example: "We train our brain hard so that we are able to control the burst of our emotions." - we don't share a common brain. So it should be 'brains'. Or: "impulsive acts often causes troubles" should be 'cause', since acts is plural. And you switch to second person late in the paragraph, talking about the person "you" hate the most, when the rest of the selection has been in first person ('we').

  • Wouldn't that qualify this question as valid for the English SE site?
    – iajrz
    Mar 23, 2011 at 12:59
  • @iajrz - proofing is specifically off-topic there. They go for shorter grammar questions. We're the critique site.
    – justkt
    Mar 23, 2011 at 13:08
  • Thank you Kate. I'll be carefully studying how to make my grammar correct.
    – xzhu
    Mar 24, 2011 at 8:27

What Kate said, plus the word participating in the last sentence seems awkward. You might consider "the impact of raw emotions," or "the influence of raw emotions," or "the role of raw emotions." Better yet, I would rephrase and say something like: ". . . and curb raw emotions" or ". . . and hold raw emotions in check."

  • Yes, thanks, that is true. In fact, I've tried hard to add a humorous flavour to the last few sentence, and it turned out not so satisfying.
    – xzhu
    Mar 24, 2011 at 8:30

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