Predicate nominatives

A predicate nominative is a noun or pronoun that follows a linking verb and refers to the subject of the verb. Examples In these examples, the underlined words are predicate nominatives: They are the ones who play sparingly in the preseason ... [TampaBay.com] They are the men who fans pay to watch and that the TV cameras and journalists love to focus on. [Aljazeera] She is a former member of the U.S. Soccer Federation Under-15 Women's National Team ... [ESPN] He believes he is who … [Read more...]

Who vs. whom

In most contexts, the use of who in place of whom is not a serious error. Many English speakers do not routinely use whom in their informal communication, and the word can sound overformal to many listeners even where it is logically correct. Be aware, however, that some people are strict about the who/whom distinction, so if you are writing a school paper or a college application or are applying for a job, using the words in the manner considered proper is safest. When you're in doubt, … [Read more...]

Assure, ensure, insure

To assure is (1) to make sure something occurs, (2) to give confidence to or encourage, or (3) to make (someone) certain (of something). In its first sense at least, the word is synonymous with ensure, which primarily means to make sure something occurs or comes to be. Insure, meanwhile, usually means to purchase or provide financial protection against loss.  This is how the words are usually used in today's English, anyway. Each has borne many other definitions over the centuries, and they … [Read more...]

College vs. university

In American English, college and university are generally used interchangeably, but there are some subtle differences between them. University usually denotes a school that offers full undergraduate and graduate programs, while colleges usually offer more narrow programs and may have no graduate studies at all. But there are no official designations for these terms, and colleges and universities can call themselves what they want. In practical American usage, university has connotations of … [Read more...]

Abstruse vs. obtuse

Abstruse---usually used in reference to the content of a written, sung, or spoken text---means difficult to understand. Obtuse means (1) not pointed (in reference to an object) or (2) simpleminded or imperceptive (in reference to a person). So, if we go by these definitions, abstruse should never refer to a person or a physical object, and obtuse should never (or very rarely) refer to a text. The words are often mixed up---for example: Notoriously obtuse, he is refreshingly straightforward … [Read more...]

Hair’s breadth (hare’s breath)

A hair's breadth is a very short distance. Breadth in this phrase is synonymous with width, so the phrase literally refers to the width of a hair. Hare's breath and hair's breath are interesting images, but for the phrase denoting a short distance, they are misspellings. Examples On the following Tuesday the world's financial system came to within one hair's breadth of extinction.  [DeRosaWorld] Little by little, Mr. Calderón stretches the familiar into a scary, empty new world that is just … [Read more...]

Storey vs. story

For the noun referring to a horizontal level of a building, story is the standard spelling in American English, and storey is preferred in all the other main varieties of English. The plural of the American story is stories, and the plural of the storey is storeys. Of course, English speakers everywhere use story for an account of a series of events and related definitions. Examples U.S. The building will stand four stories tall along Franklin Street. [Chapel Hill News] An eight-story … [Read more...]

Rappel vs. repel

To repel is (1) to ward off or drive back, (2) to cause aversion or distaste, or (3) to present an opposing force. To rappel is to descend a vertical surface, especially a cliff face, by sliding down a rope with a device that provides friction. The words are easily mixed up, and the misuse of repel in place of rappel is especially common. Examples Rappel Then hikers leave the trail and go down a gully, rappel down a cliff, cross a creek and hike another 150 meters to get to the base of the … [Read more...]

Repel vs. repulse

The verbs repel and repulse are generally used interchangeably in modern English, but they do have slightly different senses. Both mean to ward off or keep away, but repulse usually refers to physical actions, while repel (which is different from rappel) is more likely to be used figuratively or to denote emotional states. So the adjective repulsive actually corresponds with repel rather than repulse. Examples They were met by waves of police and security forces who used water cannon, tear gas … [Read more...]

In excess of

In excess of is wordy for more than, over, or exceeding, and it could usually be shortened to one of those words or phrases. For example, consider how much better these sentences would sound if in excess of were shortened: All in all, Zynga has already helped raise in excess of [more than?] $4 million in Haiti relief funds. [Fox News] Most priced in excess of [over?] $50 per bottle, the wines sell out quickly every year. [Napa Valley Register] She's sold more than 4 million albums in each … [Read more...]

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