On this page, I will from time to time comment on the way English is misused. I will discuss solecisms and pleonasms and other errors of language.
Note: A dictionary may be prescriptive or descriptive or both. A prescriptive dictionary prescribes how a word should be used, according to scholars. A descriptive dictionary decribes how a word is used regardless of what any scholar says.
Note: Two dots over a letter form a diaeresis or a dieresis. This diacritical mark is used to tell the reader to pronounce two adjacent letters separately or to pronounce a syllable that the reader might suppose is silent. The diaeresis is used in words such as coöperate, daïs and naïve and in names such as Hermës or Laërtës.
Graphic, as an adjective, means in the manner of the graphic arts, which present pictures, text and designs. Television, for example, is a graphic and an auditory medium while radio is an auditory medium. Almost all programs on television are graphic and auditory. The media often use graphic when the more appropriate word is ghastly, bloody, gruesome, gory, grisly, explicit, unedited, repulsive, disgusting, lurid, salacious or horrifying.
One definition of period is a length of time; therefore, to say "time period" is to say "time a length of time." Like "tuna fish" and "plan ahead," the expression time period uses two words where one is enough.
A judge who is uninterested in a dispute is likely to pay no attention to what the disputants are saying. A judge who is disinterested in a dispute will not unreasonably favor one side; the judge will apply the law fairly.
It is sometimes not easy to know whether one should use less or one should use fewer. The general rule is that one should use fewer when one is talking about things that can be counted — even if to count the things would take forever. Thus we say Earth has fewer trees than the universe has stars; but we say the Earth has less woodland than grassland.
Amount and number should be used like less and fewer. The general rule is that one should use number when one is talking about things that can be counted. Quantity is a substitute for either amount or number. Thus we say: The number of customers is fewer than we expected; The amount of garbage is less than we expected; The quantity of batteries is fewer than we need; The quantity of fish is less than we need.
Use noon or midnight if you need to specify those times when you are using a 12-hour-clock. Do not use 12:00 a.m. or p.m. The expressions 12:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. are nonsensical. If you are using a 24-hour-clock, you may use 1200h in place of noon and 2400h in place of midnight.
Fulsome describes something that is disgusting because there is too much of it; thus one might criticize someone's compliments for being insincere and fulsome. Full-blown describes something that has finished growing or expanding; thus one might say that Z was in a full-blown rage when he kicked at the bus, missed and fell underneath it.
Rampant and rife have overlapping meanings. Both words can mean prevailing. To use the words properly, it may help to think of a lion rampant, which is a lion up on its hindlegs. The key characteristic of the rampant lion is its aggressive pose. Think then of rampant as a synonym for aggressive. Crime is rampant when the authorities cannot control it. Rife is a matter of how often something happens. Thus we say crime is rife when a place has many instances of it in a short time.
To feel ill is to feel nauseated. To give off an odor is to be nauseous. Something dead may be nauseous.
If I say, "Bill lost his head, and I mean that literally" then I am telling you that something cut off Bill's head. If I say, "Bill lost his head," and I do not tell you whether I am speaking literally or figuratively, you should guess I am speaking figuratively, and I mean Bill screamed and danced wildly for a while.
awhile / a while
Awhile is an adverb. It means “for a short time.” Awhile does not follow a preposition. The correct use of awhile is found in the sentence: He thought awhile before he answered.
A while is a noun phrase consisting of the article “a” and the noun “while.” The noun means “space of time.” The noun phrase often follows a preposition. The correct use of the phrase is found in this sentence: He thought for a while before he answered.
While may be used also as a conjunction or a verb.
If riding a horse is something you want to do, then you are eager to ride. If riding a horse is something you do not want to do, then you are anxious about riding; that is, the thought of riding causes you some anxiety.
You might hear someone say, "His writing had so many vagaries, I could not understand him." The speaker there is confusing vagaries with vaguenesses. A vagary, which may be pronounced by emphasizing either the second syllable or the first, is a synonym for whim or caprice. A vagueness is a circumstance that begs for clarification or exactness.
Some commenters say onto is a word to avoid because often either on or to is sufficient. Other commenters treat onto as standard English. If one uses onto, one should separate on from to when using a verb that requires a trailing adverb. The careful writer will write, for example, "Hold on to the railing" or "Carry on to the waterfall before you rest."
The plural of "Mr" is "Messrs" (Messieurs). The plural of "Mrs" is "Mmes" (Mesdames). The plural of "Miss" is "Mlles" (Mesdemoiselles). To avoid the French words, one might address a group as "ladies and gentlemen."
English uses more than a few French words: exposé, cliché, résumé, passé, fiancé (man), fiancée (woman), risqué, ballet, cachet, ricochet, trebuchet, faux pas, niche, clique, déjà vu
If you are not interested in something, you might say: I couldn't care less. Do not say: I could care less.
Remember: Coats and jackets are hung. People are hanged.
If someone says first come, first serve, he or she has omitted a "d" from serve.
A gaff is a hook for holding or lifting fish. A gaffe is a mistake or a blunder.
Should I say: kĭl ŏM ĕ tĭr or KĭL ō mē tĭr? THĭR mō mē tĭr or thĭr MŏM ĕ tĭr? For distance and other measurements, use the pronunciation that ends in ē tĭr. For devices and machines (hydrometer, altimeter, odometer), use the pronunciation that ends in M ĕ tĭr.
Things do not “revert back”; they just “revert.”
It is improper to talk about a “free gift.” By definition, a gift is free. Something that is not free is not a gift.
It is bad form to talk about doing something “whenever possible” or “if possible”; it goes without saying that something impossible is not going to happen.
Fillet is usually pronounced *FIL it* when one is talking about a ribbon or a band of cloth. When one is talking about food — perhaps a fillet of fish — then one says *fi LAY*.
Some countries spell some words differently from what is common in the United States. Here are variant spellings for some common words:
aluminium\aluminum | centre\center | cheque(money)\check | colour\color | defence\defense | gaol\jail | litre\liter | metre (measurement)\meter | practise\practice | realise\realize | storey (level)\story | traveller\traveler | tyre (of car)\tire
In most English-speaking countries, "z" is pronounced zed.
This page was last updated by John Hosh on 01 January 2017.