Wednesday, December 31, 2014

anteclimax/anticlimax: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 31, 2014

anteclimax/anticlimax
When an exciting build-up leads to a disappointing end, the result is an anticlimax—the opposite of a climax. The prefix “anti-” is used to indicate opposition whereas the prefix “ante-” is used to indicate that something precedes something else; so be careful not to misspell this word “anteclimax.”



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

yoke/yolk: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 30, 2014

yoke/yolk
The yellow center of an egg is its yolk. The link that holds two oxen together is a yoke; they are yoked.

Monday, December 29, 2014

on the same token/by the same token: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 29, 2014

on the same token/by the same token
When we compare things with each other, we often say “on the one hand” and “on the other hand.” These phrases mean “on this side” and “on the other side.”

But it is a mistake to say “on the same token,” meaning “in the same regard.” The standard expression is “by the same token.”

 












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Read about the 2015 calendar here.

Friday, December 26, 2014

dispose/dispose of: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, December 26–28, 2014

dispose/dispose of
If you want to get rid of your stuff you may dispose of it on Freecyle or Craigslist. A great many people mistakenly dispose of the “of” in this phrase, writing sentences like “Dispose your unwanted mail in the recycling bin.” You can also use “dispose of” to mean “deal with” (“you can dispose of your royalties as you see fit”) or “demolish an opposing argument” (“the defense attorney disposed of the prosecutor’s case in less than five minutes”).

“Dispose” without “of” works differently, depending on the meaning. Whereas to dispose of your toy soldiers you might take them to a pawnshop, to dispose your toy soldiers you would arrange them for battle. Most politicians are disposed to talk at length.

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The Week’s End Extra from the Archives: “Rivera and Shakespeare: Perfect in every way” (July 17, 2013).

Thursday, December 25, 2014

you’ve got mail/you have mail: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 25, 2014

you’ve got mail/you have mail
The “have” contracted in phrases like this is merely an auxiliary verb, not an expression of possession. It is not a redundancy. Compare: “You’ve sent the mail.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

wreath/wreaths/wreathe/wreathes: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 24, 2014

wreath/wreaths/wreathe/wreathes
One circle of greens is a wreath (rhymes with “teeth”). The plural is “wreaths” (rhymes with “heaths”). In both cases the TH is unvoiced (like the TH in “both”).

To decorate something with wreaths is to wreathe it (rhymes with “breathe” with a voiced TH like the one at the end of “bathe”). He or she wreathes it (also with a voiced TH).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

quay/cay/key: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 23, 2014

quay/cay/key
You tie your boat up at a quay built next to the shore; you can take your boat out to explore a cay or key—a small island or reef. Cays and keys are natural; quays are always built by human beings.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Romainian/Romanian: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 22, 2014

Romainian/Romanian
The ancient Romans referred to what we call “the Roman Empire” as Romania (roh-MAHN-ee-ya). The country north of Bulgaria borrowed this ancient name for itself. Older spellings—now obsolete—include “Roumania” and “Rumania.” But although in English we pronounce “Romania” roh-MAIN-ee-ya, it is never correct to spell the country’s name as “Romainia,” and the people and language are referred to not as “Romainian” but as “Romanian.”

Ancient Romans were citizens of the Roman empire, and today they are inhabitants of the city of Rome (which in Italian is Roma). Don’t confuse Romans with Romanians.

Friday, December 19, 2014

realms of possibility/realm of possibility: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, December 19–21, 2014

realms of possibility/realm of possibility 
We say of something that is not impossible that it is “within the realm of possibility,” or “within the realm of the possible.” The plural form “realms” is so popular in the worlds of fantasy fiction and gaming that it is understandable that many people would refer to “realms of possibility,” but the realm of the possible contains everything that is possible. That’s what its name means. The idea of plural possibilities is already inherent in the word “realm.”

When even serious physicists speculate about multiple “universes” the concept of multiple realms of possibility may sound all right, but it’s neither logical nor traditional.

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The Week’s End Extra from the Archives: “Sorta Speak” (June 18, 2012).

Something is a-SKU in the comics, according to Paul Brians' latest blog post.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

cowered/coward: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 18, 2014

cowered/coward
“Coward” and “cower” may seem logically connected. But “coward”—a noun used to scornfully label a fearful person—is derived from a French root, and “cower”—a verb meaning to crouch down, often fearfully—is derived from an entirely different Nordic one. “Cowered” is just the past tense of “cower” and should not be used as a spelling for the label given to a timid person. It’s always “a coward” and “the coward.”

“Cowered” is also occasionally used improperly when “cowed”—meaning “intimidated”—is meant. It is not related etymologically to either “coward” or “cowered.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

assess: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 17, 2014

assess
“Assess” is a transitive verb; it needs an object. You can assess your team’s chances of winning the bowl game, but you cannot assess that they are playing better than last year. “Assess” is not an all-purpose synonym of “judge” or “estimate.” Most of the time if you write “assess that” you are making a mistake. The errors arise when “that” is being used as a conjunction. Exceptions arise when “that” is a pronoun or adverb: “How do you assess that?” “I assess that team’s chances as good.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

extended, extensive: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 16, 2014

extended, extensive 
“Extended” has to do with time, “extensive” with space. An extended tour lasts a long time; an extensive tour covers a lot of territory.

Monday, December 15, 2014

molten/melted: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 15, 2014

molten/melted
“Molten” is now usually used to describe hard materials like lava, glass, and lead liquefied by very high heat. Most other substances are “melted,” though some people like to refer to “molten cheese” and a popular dessert is called “molten chocolate cake,” perhaps to emphasize its gooey, lava-like character.

Friday, December 12, 2014

disembark the vessel/disembark: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, December 12–14, 2014

disembark the vessel/disembark
Announcements on many boats and ships tell passengers when to “disembark the vessel.” This wording makes some of those listening wince.

To “disembark” is to get off a marine vessel or put something or someone off a vessel. The crew disembarks the passengers. On a cargo vessel they may disembark the cargo. It’s the stuff on the ship, not the ship itself, which gets disembarked.

People sensitive to the history of words know that a “bark” is a boat or ship. The word is related etymologically to “barge.”

It would be better to simply tell the passengers to get off the vessel, leave it, or go ashore. But “disembark the vessel” is so well established in the industry that it’s not likely to go away any time soon. Meantime, it can bother you too.

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The Week’s End Extra from the Archives: “Common Errors in English Usage 2nd Edition: It’s a book that deserves its reputation” (October 28, 2008).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mongoloid: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mongoloid
“Mongoloid” is an outdated anthropological term referring to certain peoples from central and eastern Asia. Its use to label people with Down Syndrome is also dated and highly offensive. Avoid the term entirely. If you have cause to refer to people from Mongolia the proper term is “Mongolian.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

coffee clutch/coffee klatsch, coffee klatch: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 10, 2014

coffee clutch/coffee klatsch, coffee klatch
“Coffee klatsch” comes from German Kaffeeklatsch meaning “coffee chat.” This is a compound word of which only one element has been translated, with the other being left in its original German spelling.

Many people anglicize the spelling further to “coffee klatch” or “coffee clatch.” Either one is less sophisticated than “coffee klatsch,” but not too likely to cause raised eyebrows.

“Coffee clutch” is just a mistake except when used as a deliberate pun to label certain brands of coffee-cup sleeves or to name a cafe.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

you know/know what I’m sayin’: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 9, 2014

you know/know what I’m sayin’
In casual speech it’s fine to say things like “You know, I really liked that blouse you were wearing yesterday.” But some people fall into the habit of punctuating their speech with “you know” so frequently that it becomes irritating to the listener. Most people do this unconsciously, not meaning anything by it. If you become aware that you have this habit your friends and colleagues will be grateful if you try to overcome it.

Hip-hop popularized a similar formula—“know what I’m sayin’?”—frequently used when there is little or no doubt about what is being said. It means something like “right?” It’s time to retire this worn-out phrase—know what I’m sayin’?

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Lo and behold, Paul Brians investigates a misheard phrase in his latest blog post.

Monday, December 8, 2014

depravation/deprivation: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 8, 2014

depravation/deprivation
There is a rare word spelled “depravation” which has to do with something being depraved, corrupted, perverted.

But the spelling you’re more likely to need is “deprivation,” which has to do with being deprived of desirable things like sleep or chocolate.

Friday, December 5, 2014

mispell/misspell: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, December 5–7, 2014

mispell/misspell
Your spelling checker should catch this one, but judging by the popularity of “mispell,” “mispelled,” and “mispelling” on the Web, it slips by many people. These words need two S’s: one to end “mis-” and another to begin “-spell.” So the words are “misspell,” “misspelled,” and “misspelling.” This ranks as an embarrassing spelling mistake right up there with “writting.”

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The Week’s End Extra from the Archives: "Notes on the Third Edition: Most Things Are Still All Right" (November 21, 2013).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

hyperdermic/hypodermic: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, December 4, 2014

hyperdermic/hypodermic
Do you get a little hyper when you have to go to the doctor for a shot? The injection is made with a hypodermic needle. The prefix hypo- means “under,” and the needle slides under your skin (your epidermis).

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You may get a little excited, but no need to get hyper about the continuing sale on the Common Errors in English Usage book. This offer will expire over the weekend, so take advantage of it now.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

appraise/apprise: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, December 3, 2014

appraise/apprise
When you estimate the value of something, you appraise it. When you inform people of a situation, you apprise them of it.


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Of countries and birds: Paul Brians’ most recent blog post addresses the topic of what happens when place names get exported to other languages.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

ball/bawl: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, December 2, 2014

ball/bawl
To “bawl” is to cry out loudly, so when you break down in tears you bawl like a baby and when you reprimand people severely you bawl them out. Don’t use “ball” in these sorts of expressions. It has a number of meanings, but none of them have to do with shouting and wailing unless you’re shouting “play ball!”

Monday, December 1, 2014

undoubtably/undoubtedly: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, December 1, 2014

undoubtably/undoubtedly
Doubtless the spelling of “presumably” influences the misspelling “undoubtably.” The word is “undoubtedly.” When something is undoubtedly true, it is undoubted.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Missed the one-day book sale? Still time to get a great deal!

If you couldn’t make it in time to take advantage of our one-day sale on the Common Errors in English Usage book at $12, we are still discounting the book at checkout for the next week. To get the book for $15 US before Sunday, December 8, just enter the coupon code FIFTEEN at checkout (and still free shipping within the US). This really is the last of our discounting for the year, so take advantage while you can.

Friday, November 28, 2014

show-stopper/deal-breaker: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, November 28–30, 2014 (coupon code included)

show-stopper/deal-breaker
Originally a “show-stopper” (now often spelled without the hyphen as one or two words) was a sensational musical number which created so much applause that the show had to be temporarily halted. By extension, anything making a sensationally positive impact could be called “show-stopping.”

Computer programmers flipped the meaning by labeling a bug that brings a program to a halt a “showstopper.” Now the word is commonly used as a synonym for “deal-breaker” in government and business. The negative meaning is now so pervasive that it can’t be called an error, but be aware that those who know only the show-business meaning may regard you as ignorant if you use it in this way.

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Want to give the Common Errors in English Usage book as a gift? We can help! Today only—Friday, November 28—click this link and use the coupon code TWELVE to order the book for only $12 US with free shipping included.

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Brilliant in Britain" (January 26, 2013).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

underlining/underlying: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 27, 2014

underlining/underlying
You can stress points by underlining them, but it’s “underlying” in expressions like “underlying story,” “underlying motive,” and “underlying principle.”

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Want to give the Common Errors in English Usage book as a gift? We can help! One day only—this coming Friday, November 28—use the coupon code TWELVE to order the book for only $12 US with free shipping included. (Link to buy the book will be included with this message later this week.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

wet your appetite/whet your appetite: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, November 26, 2014

wet your appetite/whet your appetite
It is natural to think that something mouth-watering “wets your appetite,” but actually the expression is “whet your appetite”—sharpen your appetite, as a whetstone sharpens a knife.

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Want to give the Common Errors in English Usage book as a gift? We can help! One day only—this coming Friday, November 28—use the coupon code TWELVE to order the book for only $12 US with free shipping included. (Link to buy the book will be included with this message later this week.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Upcoming one-day sale on the Common Errors in English Usage book

This extra entry to the Common Errors in English Usage calendar is to make sure you are aware of the upcoming one-day sale this Friday, November 28. On that day only, you can enter the coupon code TWELVE on checkout and order the Common Errors in English Usage book for only $12 US—a $7 savings, and shipping the US is free. Subscribers can follow the link at the bottom of the calendar entry that day; for everyone else, check this blog for the Friday entry to get the deal. There is no limit on this offer, so order as many and as often as you like all day long.

amature/amateur: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, November 25, 2014

amature/amateur
Most of the words we’ve borrowed from the French that have retained their “-eur” endings are pretty sophisticated, like “restaurateur” (notice, no N) and “auteur” (in film criticism), but “amateur” attracts amateurish spelling.

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CORRECTION TO YESTERDAY’S ENTRY: Jan Freeman has noted via twitter that “dialectal” would be the correct formation, not “dialectical,” in the phrase “‘Ourn’ is dialectal.”


Want to give the Common Errors in English Usage book as a gift? We can help! One day only—this coming Friday, November 28—use the coupon code TWELVE to order the book for only $12 US with free shipping included. (Link to buy the book will be included with this message later this week.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

ourn/ours: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, November 24, 2014

ourn/ours
“Ourn” is dialectical; “ours” is standard English. “Well, shoot!” says Jeb, “That may be the way some folks talk, but it ain’t ourn.”

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CORRECTION: Jan Freeman has noted via twitter that “dialectal” would be the correct formation here, not “dialectical.”

Friday, November 21, 2014

fellow classmate/classmate: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, November 21–23, 2014

fellow classmate/classmate
Some redundancies are so common that few people notice them, but it’s worthwhile to be aware of them. A good example is “fellow classmate.” “Fellow” and “-mate” perform the same function. It’s better to say simply “classmate.”

The same is true of the equally redundant “fellow shipmate,” “ fellow roommate,” “fellow co-worker,” “fellow comrade,” and “fellow colleague.”

Even worse is “fellow peer.” Your fellows are your peers: same thing. The only people who should speak of fellow peers are members of the British peerage referring to others of their social class.

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Learning to spell with Obamacare: Are policies being canceled, or are they being cancelled?" (November 19, 2013).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

touché: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 20, 2014

touché
In formal fencing matches, when someone is hit by an opponent’s sword it is traditional for the person hit to cry out touché (French for “touched”) to acknowledge that fact. In other contexts, we may say touché when somebody scores a point against us in an argument, or otherwise skewers us verbally.

It is inappropriate to cry touché when you think you are the one who has skewered your opponent. Touché is not a synonym for “gotcha!”

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

antihero: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, November 19, 2014

antihero
In literature, theater, and film, an antihero is a central character who is not very admirable: weak, lazy, incompetent, or mean-spirited. However, antiheroes are rarely actually evil, and you should not use this word as a synonym for “villain” if you want to get a good grade on your English lit paper.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

teeth/teethe: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, November 18, 2014

teeth/teethe
When your baby’s teeth are just beginning to come in, you can say she has begun to “teethe” (rhymes with “breathe”). Don’t spell this verb form as “teeth” (rhymes with “wreath”). That’s the noun form, the word for what emerges during teething.

Monday, November 17, 2014

sprain/strain: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, November 17, 2014

sprain/strain
So did you sprain your leg or strain it? It will take someone with medical training to say for sure. Technically, a sprain is a ligament injury and a strain is tendon or muscle injury. But don’t fret about the distinction if you’re trying to explain to your friends why you may not be able to finish a hike; they won’t hold it against you if your “sprain” turns out to be a “strain.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

multiply by double/double, multiply by 2: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, November 14–16, 2014

multiply by double/double, multiply by 2
If you are talking about making a number twice as large, the expression is “double” or “multiply by 2”: “double your sales to multiply your income by 2.”

You could properly say “increase by a 100%” to mean the same thing, but lots of people won’t understand that.

And definitely do not confuse people by saying “multiply by double.”

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Hocking / Hawking" (November 28, 2012).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

gardener snake/garter snake: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 13, 2014

gardener snake/garter snake
“Garter snake” is a traditional American term for small harmless snakes with stripes running lengthwise along their bodies, resembling old-fashioned garters. It is more broadly used for all manner of small non-venomous snakes. Many folks don’t get the allusion, and call them “gardener snakes” instead. Although you may find these little critters in your yard, they are unlikely to do much gardening. For that you need earthworms.

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Paul Brians works up a head of steam in his latest blog post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

decent/descent/dissent: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, November 12, 2014

decent/descent/dissent
“Decent” (rhymes with “recent”) is used to label actions, things, or people that are respectable, appropriate, satisfactory, or kind.

The word to use when discussing ancestry is “descent” (rhymes with “we sent”). Somebody whose ancestors came from Brazil is of Brazilian descent.

Occasionally this latter word is confused with “dissent,” which means “disagreement.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

ax/ask: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, November 11, 2014

ax/ask
The dialectical pronunciation of “ask” as “ax” suggests to most people that the speaker has a substandard education. You should avoid it in formal speaking situations.

Monday, November 10, 2014

weather/wether/whether: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, November 10, 2014

weather/wether/whether
The climate is made up of “weather”; whether it is nice out depends on whether it is raining or not. A wether is just a castrated sheep.

Friday, November 7, 2014

ya’ll/y’all: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, November 7–9, 2014

ya’ll/y’all
“How y’all doin’?” If you are rendering this common Southernism in print, be careful where you place the apostrophe, which stands for the second and third letters in “you.” Note that “y’all” stands for “you all” and is properly a plural form, though many southern speakers treat it as a singular form and resort to “all y’all” for the plural.

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Y'all can read Paul Brians' latest blog post here.

The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Are you an old hat?" (April 23, 2012).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

UFO: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, November 6, 2014

UFO
“UFO” stands for “unidentified flying object,” so if you’re sure that a silvery disk is an alien spacecraft, there’s no point in calling it a “UFO.” I love the sign in a Seattle bookstore labeling the alien-invasion section: “Incorrectly Identified Flying Objects.”


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

attain/obtain: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, November 5, 2014

attain/obtain
“Attain” means “reach” and “obtain” means “get.” You attain a mountaintop, but obtain a rare baseball card. “Attain” usually implies a required amount of labor or difficulty; nothing is necessarily implied about the difficulty of obtaining that card. Maybe you just found it in your brother’s dresser drawer.

Some things you obtain can also be attained. If you want to emphasize how hard you worked in college, you might say you attained your degree; but if you want to emphasize that you have a valid degree that qualifies you for a certain job, you might say you obtained it. If you just bought it from a diploma mill for fifty bucks, you definitely only obtained it.

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Paul Brians' latest blog post talks horse sense.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

to home/at home: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, November 4, 2014

to home/at home
In some dialects people say, “I stayed to home to wait for the mail,” but in standard English the expression is “stayed at home.”

Monday, November 3, 2014

group (plural vs. singular): Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, November 3, 2014

group (plural vs. singular)
When the group is being considered as a whole, it can be treated as a single entity: “The group was ready to go on stage.” But when the individuality of its members is being emphasized, “group” is plural: “The group were in disagreement about where to go for dinner.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

demure/demur: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 31–November 2, 2014

demure/demur
A quiet, reserved person is demure. Its second syllable begins with a kittenish “mew”: “de-MYURE.”

The verb demur has several meanings, but is now used in a sense derived from law to describe the action of someone who resists acting as requested or answering a question. Its second syllable sounds like the “mur” in “murmur”: “duh-MURR.” Note that it is not spelled with a final E. It is used mainly in legal contexts and in journalism, and is unfamiliar enough to many people that they mix it up with the adjective demure. An example of correct use: “If they ask me to make Danish pastries again, I’m going to demur.” Demurs are usually mild, not loud, vehement refusals.

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Mangled menus" (December 13, 2012).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

breakup/break up: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 30, 2014

breakup/break up
A breakup is what happens when two people break up. The one-word form is the result, whereas the two-word form is the action that leads to it.

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Paul Brians' latest blog post considers the Northwest's rainy reputation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

dozen of/dozen: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 29, 2014

dozen of/dozen
Why isn’t it “a dozen of eggs” when it’s standard to say “a couple of eggs”? The answer is that “dozen” is a precise number word, like “two” or “hundred”; we say “two eggs,” “a hundred eggs,” and “a dozen eggs.”

“Couple” is often used less precisely, to mean “a few,” so it isn’t treated grammatically as an exact number. “A couple eggs” is less standard than “a couple of eggs.”

“Dozens of eggs” is standard because you’re not specifying how many dozens you’re talking about.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

valuble/valuable: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 28, 2014

valuble/valuable
Few of us pronounce the second A in “valuable” distinctly; just be sure to include it when writing the word.

Monday, October 27, 2014

try and/try to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 27, 2014

try and/try to
Although “try and” is common in colloquial speech and will usually pass unremarked there, in writing try to remember to use “try to” instead of “try and.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

oeuvre: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 24–26, 2014

oeuvre
In French oeuvre means “work” in many different ways. In English we use the word only in the specialized sense “the body of work produced by an individual creator.” Unfortunately, “oeuvre” begins with a vowel sound we don’t have in English and ends in a French R that also does not correspond to any English sound. The result is often grotesque mispronunciations like “oove.” It’s better to avoid foreign words like this if you haven’t mastered the accent. “Body of work” or “output” will do fine.

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Sure it's no good, but is it non-grammatical?" (February 22, 2013).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

in tact/intact: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 23, 2014

in tact/intact
Often common two-word phrases are smooshed into a single word (“anymore,” “alot,” “everytime,” “incase,” “infact”). Here’s an example where some people err in the other direction. When something survives undamaged, whole, it is not “in tact” but “intact”—one word, unbroken.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

wont/won’t: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 22, 2014

wont/won’t
People often leave the apostrophe out of “won’t,” meaning “will not.” “Wont” is a completely different and rarely used word meaning “habitual custom.” Perhaps people are reluctant to believe this is a contraction because it doesn’t make obvious sense like “cannot” being contracted to “can’t.” The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that “won’t” is a contraction of a nonstandard form: “woll not.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

adultry/adultery: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 20, 2014

adultry/adultery
“Adultery” is often misspelled “adultry,” as if it were something every adult should try. This spelling error is likely to get you snickered at. The term does not refer to all sorts of illicit sex: at least one of the partners involved has to be married for the relationship to be adulterous.

Friday, October 17, 2014

wonderkind/wunderkind: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 17–19, 2014

wonderkind/wunderkind
We borrowed the term “wunderkind,” meaning “child prodigy,” from the Germans. We don’t capitalize it the way they do, but we use the same spelling. When writing in English, don’t half-translate it as “wonderkind.”

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Notes on the Third Edition: On Chocolate Truffles" (November 3, 2013).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

reoccurring/recurring: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 16, 2014

reoccurring/recurring
It might seem logical to form this word from “occurring” by simply adding a RE- prefix—but the most common form is “recurring.” The root form is “recur” rather than “reoccur.” Although the forms with an O are legitimate, many style guides recommend against them. For some reason “recurrent” is seldom transformed into “reoccurrent.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

wench/winch: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 15, 2014

wench/winch
“Wench” began as a general term for a girl or woman, and over the centuries acquired a variety of meanings, including female servant, lower-class female, and prostitute. It is mostly used today as a jokingly affectionate archaic allusion to Shakespearean ribaldry.

The hoisting or hauling mechanism attached to a tow truck is a winch (and it’s not on a “toe truck”).

If a woman can lift your car, she’s not a wench—she’s an Amazon!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

no such a thing/no such thing: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 14, 2014

no such a thing/no such thing
Some say “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but in phrases like this it’s much less common to insert an “a” after “such” so that the phrase becomes “no such a thing.”

This variation followed by a phrase beginning with “as” will probably not be noticed in most contexts, but it tends to sound more obviously nonstandard when the phrase stands by itself as a simple negation: “Eric told me the grocery store was handing out free steaks. No such a thing.” It sounds better to most people to say instead “no such thing.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Colombia/Columbia: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 13, 2014

Colombia/Columbia
Although both are named after Columbus, the US capital is the District of Columbia, whereas the South American country is Colombia.

Friday, October 10, 2014

added bonus/bonus: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 10–12, 2014

added bonus/bonus
People who avoid redundancies tend to object to the extremely popular phrase “added bonus” because a bonus is already something additional. Speakers who use this phrase probably think of “bonus” as meaning something vaguely like “benefit.” The phrase is so common that it’s unlikely to cause you real problems.

More people frown on the similarly redundant “and plus”: “I was fired, and plus I never got my last paycheck.” Just say “and” or “plus.”

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "The third way: apostophes as visual separators" (May 11, 2011).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mongoloid: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mongoloid 
“Mongoloid” is an outdated anthropological term referring to certain peoples from central and eastern Asia. Its use to label people with Down Syndrome is also dated and highly offensive. Avoid the term entirely. If you have cause to refer to people from Mongolia the proper term is “Mongolian.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

permiscuous/promiscuous: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 8, 2014

permiscuous/promiscuous
The influence of “permissiveness” may influence this misspelling of “promiscuous.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

phoney/phony: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, October 7, 2014

phoney/phony
The usual spelling in the US is “phony”; the usual spelling in the UK and in some countries influenced by it is “phoney.”


Monday, October 6, 2014

women/woman: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, October 6, 2014

women/woman
The singular “woman” probably gets mixed up with the plural “women” because although both are spelled with an O in the first syllable, only the pronunciation of the O really differentiates them. Just remember that this word is treated no differently than “man” (one person) and “men” (more than one person). A woman is a woman—never a women.

Friday, October 3, 2014

timber/timbre: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, October 3–5, 2014

timber/timbre
You can build a house out of timber, but that quality which distinguishes the sound produced by one instrument or voice from others is timbre, usually pronounced “TAM-bruh,” so the common expression is “vocal timbre.”

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Cartel Flip-Flop" (June 19, 2012).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

almost: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, October 1, 2014

almost
Like “only,” “almost” must come immediately before the word or phrase it modifies: “She almost gave a million dollars to the museum” means something quite different from, “She gave almost a million dollars to the museum.” Right? So you shouldn’t write, “There was almost a riotous reaction when the will was read” when what you mean is, “There was an almost riotous reaction.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

thusly/thus: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, September 30, 2014

thusly/thus
“Thusly” has been around for a long time, but it is widely viewed as nonstandard. It’s safer to go with plain old “thus.”

Monday, September 29, 2014

under weigh/under way: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, September 29, 2014

under weigh/under way
The original expression for getting a boat moving has nothing to do with weighing anchor and is “getting under way,” but so many sophisticated writers get this wrong that you’re not likely to get into trouble if you imitate them.

When “underway” is used elsewhere as an adjective or adverb, by far the most common spelling is as a single word, as in “our plans are underway”; though some authorities argue that the adverbial form should be spelled as two words: “under way.”


Friday, September 26, 2014

meteor/meteorite/meteoroid: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, September 26–28, 2014

meteor/meteorite/meteoroid 
 A chunk of rock out in space is a “meteoroid.” If it plummets down through the earth’s atmosphere, the resulting streak of light is called a “meteor.” And if it lands on the ground, the chunk of stone is called a “meteorite.”

Don’t confuse meteors with comets, which are masses of ice and dust whose tails are produced not inside our atmosphere, but out in space. When a comet gets too close to the Sun its warmth and the pressure of the solar wind cause some of the comet to evaporate and stream out to form a tail.

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The Week’s End Extra from the Archives: “Winching in an Entry, Wincing at the Results” (December 2, 2013).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

awe, shucks/aw, shucks: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, September 25, 2014

awe, shucks/aw, shucks
“Aw, shucks,” is a traditional folksy expression of modesty. An “aw-shucks” kind of person declines to accept compliments. “Aw” is an interjection roughly synonymous with “oh.” “Awe” is a noun which most often means “amazed admiration.” So many people have begun to misspell the familiar phrase “awe, shucks,” that some writers think they are being clever when they link it to the current expression “shock and awe.” Instead, they reveal their confusion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

World Wide Web: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, September 23, 2014

World Wide Web
“World Wide Web” is a name that most of us feel needs to be capitalized, like “Internet.” It is made up of Web pages and Web sites (or, less formally, Websites).

Monday, September 22, 2014

minuet/minute: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, September 22, 2014

minuet/minute
Shakespeare’s colleague and popular comic actor Will Kemp was famous for his stunt of dancing the jig from London to Norwich (about 80 miles). That’s what I think of when I see real estate ads boasting “only five minuets from downtown!”

This is one of those silly typos that your spelling checker won’t catch, because “minuet” is a real word.


Friday, September 19, 2014

on the contraire/au contraire, on the contrary, to the contrary: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, September 19–21, 2014

on the contraire/au contraire, on the contrary, to the contrary
People who like to show off their French sometimes use the expression au contraire when they mean “on the contrary” or “to the contrary.” People who don’t know any better mix up French and English by saying “on the contraire.”

“On the contrary” is the earliest form. It means “it’s the opposite”: “I thought you liked sweet pickles.” “On the contrary, I prefer dills.”

“To the contrary” means “to the opposite effect,” “in opposition”: “No matter what my neighbor says to the contrary, I think it’s his dog that’s been pooping on my petunias.”

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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: “‘Who that?’ (And other non-errors)” (January 18, 2013).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

going forward: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, September 18, 2014

going forward
Speakers in the business world and in government are fond of saying “going forward” to mean “from now on,” “in the future,” or even “now.” It gives a sense of action, purpose, and direction that appeals to many people.

However, many other people find it pretentious and annoying, especially when it is used simply to indicate that the future is being talked about. Since in English our verbs do this job nicely, “going forward” is often superfluous. In a statement like “Going forward, we’re going to have to budget more for advertising,” the sentence would be just as clear and less cluttered if the first two words were dropped.

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You may say that Paul Brians has built a great resource with Common Errors in English Usage, but please don't say he has architected a great resource, though that would technically not be an error. His latest blog post explains why.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

weak/week: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, September 17, 2014

weak/week
People often absentmindedly write “last weak” or “next weak.” Less often they write “I feel week.” These mistakes will not be caught by a spelling checker.

“Weak” is the opposite of “strong.” A week is made up of seven days.

















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What station was your station wagon born to? A new blog post by Paul Brians notes some confusion about the word "hybrid."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

attribute/contribute: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, September 16, 2014

attribute/contribute
When trying to give credit to someone, say that you attribute your success to their help, not contribute. (Of course, a politician may attribute his success to those who contribute to his campaign fund, but probably only in private.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

PC computer/PC: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, September 12–14, 2014

PC computer/PC 
The phrase “PC computer” is a bit awkward and redundant since “PC” stands for “personal computer.” The problem is that originally the label “PC” meant not personal computers generally, but computers compatible with the IBM PC introduced in 1981. By the time IBM adopted the abbreviation for a specific model there had been many earlier personal computers like the Commodore PET and the Apple II. Now IBM doesn’t make PCs and none of today’s popular personal computers is compatible with the original PC. The label is still used to distinguish between computers running some version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system and the Macintosh computers made by Apple, even though Macs are certainly personal computers and the newer ones can also run Windows. No wonder people forget what “PC” stands for. If you want to use the abbreviation to indicate that your computer is not a Mac, “PC” alone will do, despite its literal inaccuracy.




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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Whim and a Prayer" (April 18, 2011).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

bon a petite/bon appétit: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, September 11, 2014

bon a petite/bon appétit 
The traditional French phrase to utter when you serve the food is bon appétit: “good appetite” (and pronounced “bone ah-puh-TEE”). It implies “may you enjoy your food with a good appetite.” (For some reason I think this is fine but get irritated when a waiter tells me “enjoy!”)

You see all sorts of misspellings of this phrase: “bon a petite,” “bon à petite,” “bon á petite,” “bona petite,” “bonapetite,” “bon a petit,” etc. All of these are bon à rien—good for nothing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

here’s/here are: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, September 10, 2014

here’s/here are
Sentences like “here’s the gerbil” are shortened ways of saying “here is the gerbil.” But “here’s the gerbils” is wrong because “here’s” is not a contraction of “here are.” In speaking we might say “here’re the gerbils,“ but we probably would not use the contracted form in writing unless we were trying to convey the effect of spoken English. Instead write “here are the gerbils.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

licence/license: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, September 9, 2014

licence/license 
In the UK, the noun is “licence”: “here is my driving licence.” But when it is a verb, the spelling is “license”: “she is licensed to drive a lorry.”

In contrast, Americans use the spelling “license” in all contexts and the spelling “licence” is considered a spelling error.

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Would you be so kind as to read Paul Brians’ latest blog post?

Monday, September 8, 2014

knots per hour/knots: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, September 8, 2014

knots per hour/knots 
A knot equals one nautical mile per hour, so it makes no sense to speak of “knots per hour.” Leave off “per hour” when reporting the speed of a vessel in knots.

Friday, September 5, 2014

shined/shone: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, September 5–7, 2014



shined/shone 
The transitive form of the verb “shine” is “shined.” If the context describes something shining on something else, use “shined”: “He shined his flashlight on the skunk eating from the dog dish.” You can remember this because another sense of the word meaning “polished” obviously requires “shined”: “I shined your shoes for you.”

When the shining is less active, many people would use “shone”: “The sun shone on the tomato plants all afternoon.” But some authorities prefer “shined” even in this sort of context: “The sun shined on the tomato plants all afternoon.”

If the verb is intransitive (lacks an object) and the context merely speaks of the act of shining, the past tense is definitely “shone”: “The sun shone all afternoon” (note that nothing is said here about the sun shining on anything).

 
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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Belgium Chocolate" (May 15, 2011).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

youse/you: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, September 4, 2014

youse/you
The plural form of “you” pronounced as “youse” is heard mainly in satire on the speech of folks from Brooklyn. It’s not standard English, since “you” can be either singular or plural without any change in spelling or pronunciation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

along the same vein/in the same vein, along the same line: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, September 2, 2014

along the same vein/in the same vein, along the same line 
The expressions “in the same vein” and “along the same line” mean the same thing (“on the same subject”), but those who cross-pollinate them to create the hybrid “along the same vein” sound a little odd to those who are used to the standard expressions.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

maddening crowd/madding crowd: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, August 29–31, 2014

maddening crowd/madding crowd
When Thomas Hardy titled one of his novels Far from the Madding Crowd he was quoting a phrase from Thomas Gray’s 1750 poem “Elegy on a Country Churchyard” which used the archaic spelling “madding.” The only reason to refer to “madding crowds” is to show how sophisticated you are, but if you update the spelling to “maddening” it will have the opposite effect: you’ll look ignorant.



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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Not a bunch of baloney: Ben Zimmer gets to the meat of the issue" (May 3, 2013). Bonus tie-in: Ben Zimmer is an uncredited contributor to William, James & Company's own Far from the Madding Gerund.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

their’s/theirs: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 28, 2014

their’s/theirs
Like the related possessive pronouns “ours,” “his,” and “hers,” “theirs” does not take an apostrophe.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

behaviors/behavior: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 27, 2014

behaviors/behavior 
“Behavior” has always referred to patterns of action, including multiple actions, and did not have a separate plural form until social scientists created it. Unless you are writing in psychology, sociology, anthropology, or a related field, it is better to avoid the use of “behaviors” in your writing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

wash: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 26, 2014

wash 
In my mother’s Oklahoma dialect, “wash” was pronounced “warsh,” and I was embarrassed to discover in school that the inclusion of the superfluous R sound was considered ignorant. This has made me all the more sensitive now that I live in Washington to the mispronunciation “Warshington.” Some people tell you that after you “warsh” you should “wrench” (“rinse”).

Monday, August 25, 2014

zero-sum gain/zero-sum game: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, August 25, 2014

zero-sum gain/zero-sum game 
The concept of a zero-sum game was developed first in game theory: what one side gains the other loses. When applied to economics it is often contrasted with a “win-win” situation in which both sides can make gains without anyone losing. People who are unaware of the phrase’s origins often mistakenly substitute “gain” for “game.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

got/gotten: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, August 22–24, 2014

got/gotten
In the UK, the old word “gotten” dropped out of use except in such stock phrases as “ill-gotten” and “gotten up,” but in the US it is frequently used as the past participle of “get.” Sometimes the two are interchangeable; however, “got” implies current possession, as in “I’ve got just five dollars to buy my dinner with.” “Gotten,” in contrast, often implies the process of getting hold of something: “I’ve gotten five dollars for cleaning out Mrs. Quimby’s shed,” emphasizing the earning of the money rather than its possession. Phrases that involve some sort of process usually involve “gotten”: “My grades have gotten better since I moved out of the fraternity.” When you have to leave, you’ve got to go. If you say you’ve “gotten to go” you’re implying someone gave you permission to go.


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It looks like "chomp" has gotten the best of "champ," according to Paul Brians' latest blog post.


The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Literally comical" (August 22, 2013).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

leach/leech: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 21, 2014

leach/leech 
Water leaches chemicals out of soil or color out of cloth; your brother-in-law leeches off the family by constantly borrowing money to pay his gambling debts (he behaves like a bloodsucking leech).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

outcast/outcaste: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 20, 2014

outcast/outcaste 
Believe it or not, these two similar words have very different origins. An “outcast” is someone who has been cast (thrown) out of a group, and may be used loosely of all kinds of loners.

An “outcaste” is technically a South Asian person who has been expelled from his or her caste, or a person who lacks a caste identification. Although this spelling can be used metaphorically, it is probably better to confine it to discussions of social relations in Hinduism and other South Asian contexts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

de rigueur: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 19, 2014

de rigueur
The French phrase de rigueur means “required,” “mandatory” (usually according to custom, etiquette, or fashion). It’s one of those tricky words like “liqueur” with a U before the E and another one after it. It is misspelled in a host of ways (de rigeur, de rigor, derigor, etc.) It is pronounced duh-ree-GUHR. Like other incompletely adopted foreign phrases, it is usually italicized in print.

Monday, August 18, 2014

graffiti: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, August 18, 2014

graffiti 
Graffiti is an Italian plural form. One scrawl on a wall is a graffito. But few English speakers are aware of this distinction and say things like “there’s a graffiti on the storefront.” This is not usually considered incorrect, but people who know Italian may disapprove, so you might want to use the word only in the plural.

Friday, August 15, 2014

you: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, August 15–17, 2014

you 
The second person has perfectly legitimate uses, even when you are not directly addressing another specific person as I am doing in this sentence (I am addressing you, the reader). One example is the giving of directions: “to reach the Pegasus Coffee House, you drive west on Winslow Way to Madison, turn left to the end of Madison, then turn right onto Parfitt Way, and you’ll see Pegasus on your left.”

It is also commonly used in an indefinite way, where a more formal writer might use “one”: “You can eat all you want at Tiny’s salad bar.”

It can be disorienting to switch from first person to second: “I always order pizza with extra cheese because you know that otherwise they’re not going to give you enough.” But sometimes such a switch works well to broaden the context of a sentence. For example: “I hate living in the dorm because other people always want to party when you’re trying to study.” The first part of the sentence is specifically about feelings of the speaker, but the second part is about a general pattern which affects many other people who can plausibly be referred to as “you.”

Because the use of the second person conveys an intimate, casual tone, many teachers discourage its use in class essays, feeling that it gives an unsophisticated air to student prose. Be careful about using it in such essays unless you know that your teacher approves.


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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Uses of the Oxford English Dictionary" (April 26, 2011).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

partake/participate: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 14, 2014

partake/participate 
“Partake” looks like it might mean “take part,” and that’s how many people mistakenly use it where they should say “participate.” The main modern meaning of “partake” is “consume,” especially in relation to food. One can partake of the refreshments at a party, but one can also partake of Twinkies at home alone, without any thought of sharing.

So don’t ask people to “partake” in a planning process when you mean to ask them to participate.

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Partake of Paul Brians' latest blog post—it is not substance-free!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

broke/broken: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 13, 2014

broke/broken 
When you break something, it’s broken, not “broke,” though a person or organization which has run out of money can be said in informal speech to be “broke.” Otherwise, use “broke” only as the simple past tense of “break,” without a helping verb: “Azfar broke the record,” but “The record was broken by Azfar.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

use to/used to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 12, 2014

use to/used to 
Because the D and the T are blended into a single consonant when this phrase is pronounced, many writers are unaware that the D is even present and omit it in writing.

Friday, August 8, 2014

death nail/death knell, nail in the coffin: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, August 8–10, 2014

death nail/death knell, nail in the coffin 
“Death nail” is a result of confusing two expressions with similar meanings.

The first is “death knell.” When a large bell (like a church bell) rings—or tolls—it knells. When a bell is rung slowly to mark the death of someone, it is said to sound the death knell. But “death knell” is more often used figuratively, as in “his arrest for embezzlement sounded the death knell for Rob’s campaign to be state treasurer.”
Another way to describe the final blow that finishes someone or something off is “put the last nail in the coffin,” as in “a huge budget cut put the last nail in the coffin of the city’s plan to erect a statue of the mayor’s dog.” Something not yet fatal but seriously damaging can be said to “drive another nail” in its coffin.


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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Giving an Example an Indian Flavor" (November 15, 2013).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

adopted/adoptive: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 7, 2014

adopted/adoptive 
Some people seem to think that “adoptive” is just a more fancy word than “adopted” and write about “the adoptive child.” But the two words have different meanings. Parents who do the adopting are adoptive, children are adopted.

Don’t call people adopting children “adaptive,” though. Adaptive parents would be parents that could adapt themselves to changing circumstances.

When a city, club, or other organization adopts you, it also is adoptive.

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Paul Brians' latest blog post centers on "centers around."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

oppose to/opposed to, supposed to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 6, 2014

oppose to/opposed to, supposed to 
Just as some people say “suppose to” when they mean “supposed to,” others say “oppose to” when they mean “opposed to.” You may be opposed to laugh tracks on TV comedy shows or wearing flip-flops at a wedding reception.

Some people go even further and get “oppose” and “suppose” all mixed up, saying things like “You’re oppose to get the oil changed in the car every 5,000 miles.” That should be “supposed to.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

scarcely: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 5, 2014

scarcely 
“Scarcely” is a negative adverb and shouldn’t have another negative word used with it. “She couldn’t scarcely afford the bus fare” should be “She could scarcely afford the bus fare.”

Monday, August 4, 2014

prepositions (wrong): Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, August 4, 2014

prepositions (wrong)
One of the clearest indications that a person reads little and doesn’t hear much formal English is a failure to use the standard preposition in a common expression. You aren’t ignorant to a fact; you’re ignorant of it. Things don’t happen on accident, but by accident (though they do happen “on purpose”). There are no simple rules governing preposition usage: you just have to immerse yourself in standard English in order to write it naturally.

Friday, August 1, 2014

don’t/doesn’t: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, August 1–3, 2014

don’t/doesn’t
The opposite of “do” is “do not,” usually contracted to “don’t.”

The opposite of “does” is “does not,” usually contracted to “doesn’t.”

“I do,” “you do,” “we do,” “they do,” “the birds do.” “It does,” “she does,” “he does,” “the flock does.”

So in standard English it’s “I don’t,” “you don’t,” “we don’t,” “the birds don’t” and “it doesn’t,” “he “doesn’t,” and “the flock doesn’t.”

But in many American dialects, “don’t” is used in contexts where “doesn’t” is standard: “she don’t drive,” “it don’t make no sense,” “the boss don’t treat us right.”

This is one of those patterns which is likely to make you sound less well educated and less sophisticated than standard English speakers. If you’re trying to shake off your dialect, learning when to use “doesn’t” is important.

You can usually tell when “doesn’t” is more appropriate by expanding the contracted form to two words: “does not.” It’s not “she do not appreciate my singing,” but “she does not appreciate it,” so it should be “she doesn’t appreciate it.”

But in popular song lyrics “don’t” prevails: “she don’t like the lights,” “he don’t love you like I love you,” “it don’t come easy.”



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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Amiss Goes Awry" (October 27, 2012).

Thursday, July 31, 2014

donut/doughnut: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 31, 2014

donut/doughnut
“Donut” is popular in advertising, but for most purposes spell it “doughnut.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

nicety/niceness: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 30, 2014

nicety/niceness
“Nicety” is a noun meaning “fine detail” and is usually used in the plural. You may observe the niceties of etiquette or of English grammar. It is not a noun denoting the quality of being nice. That is “niceness.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

in mass/en masse: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

in mass/en masse 
We borrowed the phrase en masse from the French: “The mob marched en masse to the Bastille.” It does indeed mean “in a mass,” and you can use that English expression if you prefer, but “in mass” is an error.

Friday, July 25, 2014

l/ll: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, July 25–27, 2014

l/ll 
There are quite a few words spelled with a double L in UK English which are spelled in the US with a single L. Examples include “woollen” (US “woolen”), “counsellor” (US “counselor”), “medallist” (US “medalist”), “jeweller” (US “jeweler”), “initialled” (US “initialed”), “labelled” (US “labeled”), “signalled” (US “signaled”), “totalled” (US “totaled”).

Most of these won’t cause Americans serious problems if they use the UK spelling, and a good spelling checker set to US English will catch them. But “chilli” looks distinctly odd to Americans when it turns up in the UK-influenced English of South Asian cookbooks. Americans are used to seeing it spelled “chili.” (Of course Spanish speakers think it should be chile.)



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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Even more errors: razor-tight" (November 7, 2012).

Paul Brians comments on Weird Al's "Word Crimes" in his latest blog post.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

aural/oral: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 24, 2014

aural/oral 
“Aural” has to do with things you hear, “oral” with things you say, or relating to your mouth.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

worse comes to worse/worst comes to worst: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 23, 2014

worse comes to worse/worst comes to worst 
The traditional idiom is “if worst comes to worst.” The modern variation “worse comes to worst” is a little more logical. “Worse comes to worse” is just a mistake.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

holocaust: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

holocaust 
“Holocaust” is a Greek-derived translation of the Hebrew term olah, which denotes a sort of ritual sacrifice in which the food offered is completely burnt up rather than being merely dedicated to God and then eaten. It was applied with bitter irony by Jews to the destruction of millions of their number in the Nazi death camps. Although phrases like “nuclear holocaust” and “Cambodian holocaust” have become common, you risk giving serious offense by using the word in less severe circumstances, such as calling a precipitous decline in stock prices a “sell-off holocaust.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

bully pulpit: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 21, 2014

bully pulpit 
We occasionally still use the old positive meaning of the word “bully” when congratulating somebody (sincerely or sarcastically) by saying “Bully for you!” A century ago “bully” meant “good,” “great.”

That’s why Theodore Roosevelt called the American presidency a “bully pulpit,” meaning that it provided him an outstanding platform from which to preach his ideas. The expression is often misused by writers who mistakenly think it has something to do with preaching at people in a bullying way.


Friday, July 18, 2014

your guys’s/your: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, July 18–20, 2014

your guys’s/your 
Many languages have separate singular and plural forms for the second person (ways of saying “you”), but standard English does not. “You” can be addressed to an individual or a whole room full of people.

In casual speech, Americans have evolved the slangy expression “you guys” to function as a second-person plural, formerly used of males only but now extended to both sexes; but this is not appropriate in formal contexts. Diners in fine restaurants are often irritated by clueless waiters who ask “Can I get you guys anything?”

The problem is much more serious when extended to the possessive: “You guys’s dessert will be ready in a minute.” Some people even create a double possessive by saying “your guys’s dessert. . . .” This is extremely clumsy. When dealing with people you don’t know intimately, it’s best to stick with “you” and “your” no matter how many people you’re addressing.



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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Walk and Roll" (October 3, 2012).
Of roses, poetry, and comic strips: Paul Brians' recent blog posts discuss two (or three) of his favorite topics.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

contaminates/contaminants: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 17, 2014

contaminates/contaminants 
When run-off from a chemical plant enters the river it contaminates the water; but the goo itself consists of contaminants.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

aide/aid: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 16, 2014

aide/aid
In American English, an aide is a personal assistant (nurse’s aide, presidential aide) but an inanimate object or process is always an aid (hearing aid, first aid).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

phenomena/phenomenon: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 15, 2014

phenomena/phenomenon
“Phenomena” is the plural form. It’s “this phenomenon,” but “these phenomena.”

Monday, July 14, 2014

based around, based off of/based on: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 14, 2014

based around, based off of/based on 
You can build a structure around a center; but bases go on the bottom of things, so you can’t base something around something else.

Similarly, you can build something off of a starting point, but you can’t base anything off of anything. Something is always based on something else.

Friday, July 11, 2014

calls for/predicts: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, July 11–13, 2014

calls for/predicts
Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
         But will they come when you do call for them?
—Shakespeare: Henry IV, Part 1
Newspeople constantly joke that the weather service is to blame for the weather, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they tell us that the forecast “calls for” rain when what they mean is that it “predicts” rain. Remember, wherever you live, the weather is uncalled for.

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The Week’s End Extra from the Archives: “One of those usage guidelines that refuse(s) to be pinned down . . . ” (May 10, 2013).

Paul Brians’ latest blog post calls for recognition of a verb form that has snuck into the language.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

bail/bale: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, July 10, 2014

bail/bale 
You bail the boat and bale the hay.

In the expression “bail out,” meaning to abandon a position or situation, it is nonstandard in America to use “bale,” though that spelling is widely accepted in the UK. The metaphor in the US is to compare oneself when jumping out of a plane to a bucket of water being tossed out of a boat, though that is probably not the origin of the phrase.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

breach/breech: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 8, 2014

breach/breech
Substitute a K for the CH in “breach” to remind you that the word has to do with breakage: you can breach (break through) a dam or breach (violate the terms of) a contract. As a noun, a breach is something broken off or open, as in a breach in a military line during combat.

“Breech,” however, refers to rear ends, as in “breeches” (slang spelling “britches”). Thus “breech cloth,” “breech birth,” or “breech-loading gun.”

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” means “let’s charge into the gap in the enemy’s defenses,” not “let’s reach into our pants again.”

Monday, July 7, 2014

cents: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, July 7, 2014

cents
On a sign displaying a cost of 29 cents for something, the price can be written as “.29,” as “$.29,” or as “29¢,” but don’t combine the two forms. “.29¢” makes no sense, and “$.29¢” is worse.

Friday, July 4, 2014

mislead/misled: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, July 4–6, 2014

mislead/misled
“Mislead” is the present tense form of this verb, but the past tense and past participle forms are “misled.” When you mislead someone you have misled them. The spelling error most often occurs in the phrase “don’t be mislead,” especially in advertising. Although this phrase refers to the future, the helping verb “be” requires the participle “misled”: “don’t be misled.”


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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Misspell "vise" and win a free book!" (April 27, 2011).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ain’t/am not/isn’t/aren’t: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ain’t/am not/isn’t/aren’t 

“Ain’t” has a long and vital history as a substitute for “isn’t,” “aren’t,” and so on. It was originally formed from a contraction of “am not” and is still commonly used in that sense. Even though it has been universally condemned as the classic “mistake” in English, everyone uses it occasionally as part of a joking phrase or to convey a down-to-earth quality. But if you always use it instead of the more “proper” contractions you’re sure to be branded as uneducated.


























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Can't find a Dylan album? Maybe it's invisible. Paul Brians' latest blog post explains

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

alumnus/alumni: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, July 1, 2014

alumnus/alumni
We used to have “alumnus” (male singular), “alumni” (male plural), “alumna” (female singular), and “alumnae” (female plural); but the latter two are now popular only among older female graduates, with the first two terms becoming unisex. However, it is still important to distinguish between one alumnus and a stadium full of alumni. Never say, “I am an alumni,” if you don’t want to cast discredit on your school. Many avoid the whole problem by resorting to the informal abbreviation “alum.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

closed-minded/close-minded: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, June 30, 2014

closed-minded/close-minded
“Closed-minded” might seem logical, but the traditional spelling of this expression is “close-minded.” The same is true for “close-lipped” and “close-mouthed.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

espouse/expound/expand: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, June 27–29, 2014

espouse/expound/expand
The core meaning of “espouse” is “marry.” When you espouse an idea or cause in public you are proclaiming that you are wed to it; you are promoting it as yours.

When you expound an idea you are explaining it. Theoretically you could expound an idea that you don’t personally espouse. “Expound” was traditionally used mainly to refer to detailed examinations of complex or obscure systems of thought, but it is most often used today to mean “to speak at length about” and frequently occurs in the phrase “expound on”: “the senator expounded on his love for the traditional family farm.”

Sometimes in such contexts it would be more appropriate to use “expand on,” which means “to speak at further length about.” “Expand” in this sense lacks the systematic analytical connotations of “expound.”

You never “espouse on” an idea; you just espouse it.


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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Whits and pieces . . ." (April 21, 2011)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

wary/weary/leery: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, June 26, 2014

wary/weary/leery
People sometimes write “weary” (tired) when they mean “wary” (cautious), which is a close synonym with “leery.” “Leery” in the psychedelic era was often misspelled “leary,” but since Timothy Leary faded from public consciousness, the correct spelling has prevailed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

time period: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, June 25, 2014

time period
The only kinds of periods meant by people who use this phrase are periods of time, so it’s a redundancy. Say simply “time” or “period.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

knots per hour/knots: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, June 24, 2014

knots per hour/knots 
A knot equals one nautical mile per hour, so it makes no sense to speak of “knots per hour.” Leave off “per hour” when reporting the speed of a vessel in knots. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

sole/soul: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, June 23, 2014

sole/soul 
The bottom of your foot is your sole; your spirit is your soul.

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Listen to Paul Brians discuss RBI vs. RBIs on Gary Hill's Mariners podcast (at the 27:35 mark).


Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy Belated Birthday/Belated Happy Birthday: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, June 20–22, 2014

Happy Belated Birthday/Belated Happy Birthday 
When someone has forgotten your birthday, they’re likely to send you a card reading “Happy Belated Birthday.” But this is a mistake. The birthday isn’t belated; the wishes are.

Better-phrased cards read “Belated Happy Birthday.” This form treats “Happy Birthday” as a phrase equivalent to something like “Late Congratulations.” (If you sent out your holiday cards in early January you might wish someone a “Belated Merry Christmas.”) Even clearer would be “Belated Happy Birthday Wishes,” but most people seem to consider this too wordy.
  
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The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Spaces in Family Names" (June 7, 2011).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

whilst/while: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, June 19, 2014

whilst/while
Although “whilst” is a perfectly good traditional synonym of “while,” in American usage it is considered pretentious and old-fashioned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

all: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, June 18, 2014

all
Put this word where it belongs in the sentence. In negative statements, don’t write, “All the pictures didn’t show her dimples” when you mean, “The pictures didn’t all show her dimples.”