Marinade vs. marinate

Marinade is a liquid mixture (usually vinegar, oil, and herbs) in which meat is soaked before cooking. Marinate is the corresponding verb (i.e., to soak in marinade). The noun marinade has been mistakenly used in place of the verb marinate so often and for so long that many dictionaries now list marinade as a variant of marinate. Still, there is no reason not to keep the words separate. Examples Make the marinade by mixing together all the ingredients for it. [Telegraph] A year later he … [Read more...]


The past participle and past-tense form of the verb fly is usually flew. The only exception comes in baseball and softball, where a fly out (two words) is an out recorded when a batted ball is caught in the outfield. For example, if a batter hits a ball that gets caught by the right fielder deep in the outfield, later we would say the batter flied out to right. This might sound incorrect to anyone who doesn't follow baseball, but the argument over whether flied is correct was settled long … [Read more...]

Spelled vs. spelt


In American English, spelt primarily refers to the hardy wheat grown mostly in Europe, and the verb spell makes spelled in the past tense and as a past participle. In all other main varieties of English, spelt and spelled both work as the past tense and past participle of spell, at least where spell means to form words letter by letter or (with out) to make clear. Outside the U.S., the two forms are interchangeable in these uses, and both are common. But when spell carries the sense to … [Read more...]


The adjective impactful, a late-20th-century coinage, is frequently derided as a meaningless buzzword, but the word is here to stay whether we like it or not, and many people find it useful. The main gripe is that impactful is illogical because the suffix -ful means full of, and impact is not a quantity and hence can't fill anything. The problems with this complaint are (1) that -ful also means having the quality of, and that (2) impact bears the secondary sense the power to make an … [Read more...]

Meager vs. meagre

For the adjective meaning deficient or lean, meager is the preferred spelling in American English. Meagre is preferred in all other varieties of English. Other than the spelling, there is no difference between the two forms. Examples Outside the U.S. So how did a battle over a $3.6-trillion (U.S.) budget boil down to a fight over a meagre $75-million in funding for Planned Parenthood? [Globe and Mail] Three championship victories all season reflected meagre bowling stocks and injuries to … [Read more...]



Ironical is a variant of ironic. It has no definitions of its own. It was once more common than ironic (see the ngram at the bottom of this post), but ironic now prevails by an overwhelming margin. Still, because the suffix conventions in English are inconsistent, ironical will probably continue to appear. For example, metaphorical is preferred over metaphoric, academic and seismic are preferred over academical and seismical, and economic and economical are both legitimate words with … [Read more...]

Timeout vs. time out

In American and Canadian English, timeout is one word in sports-related contexts, where it means an official pause in the action. Timeouts is its plural. In all other uses, time out is a two-word noun phrase. In British English, meanwhile, the one-word timeout is considered incorrect. Time out is preferred, even in sports. Examples Timeout (North America) The Mavericks called a timeout and when Terry got to the bench, Barea was yelling at him. [Dallas Morning News] Chris Wilcox … [Read more...]

Enervate vs. innervate

The verb enervate means to weaken or destroy the strength or energy of. Its near homophone innervate---which is usually used in biological contexts with regard to nerves, though it's sometimes used figuratively---means to stimulate to action. Because enervate sounds somewhat similar to both energize and innervate, it is sometimes treated as if it were synonymous with those words. Examples Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, … [Read more...]

Neck and neck

The idiom meaning so close that the lead between competitors is indeterminable is neck and neck. It is often incorrectly written neck in neck. Although some usage authorities recommend always hyphenating neck-and-neck, we can treat this idiom like a typical phrasal adjective: hyphenate neck and neck when it precedes the noun or phrase it modifies (e.g., a neck-and-neck race), and leave it unhyphenated when it functions as a predicate adjective (e.g., the race was neck and neck). When it … [Read more...]

Peak vs. peek vs. pique

A peak is (1) a maximum, (2) to achieve a maximum, and (3) to bring to a maximum. Its homophone pique, which appears mostly in the phrase pique [one's] interest, means (1) to provoke or arouse, or (2) to provoke resentment or indignation. It also works as a noun referring to a feeling of resentment or indignation resulting from wounded pride. A third homophone, peek, means (1) to glance quickly, (2) to look furtively, or (3) a quick or furtive look. Examples It peaked with Della famously … [Read more...]

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