Laudable vs. laudatory

The adjective laudatory, meaning expressing praise, describes the expression of praise. Laudable, meaning praiseworthy, applies to the person, thing, or event receiving the praise. For example, a very laudable movie might receive laudatory reviews from the critics. Examples Compassion is a laudable trait but a disastrous basis for government policy. [Vancouver Sun] Gov. Andrew Cuomo distributed a laudatory video praising the state accord and legislative leaders. [Hornell Evening … [Read more...]

Abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms

In English, there are four main classifications of shortened words and phrases. Abbreviations All types of shortened words and phrases are technically abbreviations, but we generally use this term to denote shortened words---for example, Dr. in place of Doctor, pars. in place of paragraphs, Found. in place of Foundation, lbs. in place of pounds, AK in place of Alaska. Acronyms Acronyms are formed from the initial letters of phrases or compound terms. For example, the word radar comes from … [Read more...]

Fortuitous vs. fortunate

The adjective fortuitous means happening by accident or chance. It's synonymous with random and accidental. Fortuitous is often conflated with fortunate, meaning (1) bringing something good or unforeseen or (2) having good luck. Perhaps due to the words' similarity in sound, fortuitous has long been used primarily to describe fortunate accidents rather than things that are merely accidental. Using the word to describe an unhappy accident would not be illogical, but it might confuse some … [Read more...]

Abolishment vs. abolition

Abolishment appears in many dictionaries and is not considered incorrect, but abolition is preferred in all modern varieties of English. Both nouns mean the act of doing away with something, and neither has any meanings it does not share with the other. Both words date from the early 16th century (soon after abolish came to English from French roots), but abolition has always been more common, and it now appears about ten times as often as abolishment. Some writers reserve abolishment for … [Read more...]

Your vs. you’re

Your is the possessive form of you. It functions as an adjective, usually going before the noun it modifies. For example, in the phrase your books, your is an adjective modifying the noun books. You’re is a contraction of you are. It works anywhere you are would work. So, for example, you are pretty means the same as you’re pretty. Examples Your cat is mean. You’re the owner of a mean cat. I wouldn’t want to do your job. I hope you’re happy with your job. Your visiting me today … [Read more...]

Telegram vs. telegraph

Telegraph refers to the technology and the communications system. A telegram is a message sent via telegraph. Though both words are used as verbs meaning to send a telegram, telegraph is more common in this use. Telegraph is also used figuratively to mean to make known in advance or unintentionally. The technology may be obsolete, but these words still appear in historical writing, and the figurative sense of telegraph is still going strong. Examples Literal uses The telegraph, after all, … [Read more...]

Shed vs. shedded

The verb shed is uninflected in the past tense and as a past participle. For example, she shed some fur yesterday and she has shed her excess fur are correct, as is we found some shed skin on the ground. Shedded appears occasionally, but dictionaries don't recognize it, and it is rare in edited writing. Examples Once inside she shed the coat to reveal a silver ruffled dress. [Daily Mail] The unemployment rate has shed a full percentage point in the last four months. [CNN] [T]he shed fur … [Read more...]

Shined vs. shone

The verb shine has two main definitions: (1) to emit light, and (2) to cause to gleam by polishing. In its first sense, shine traditionally becomes shone in the past tense and as a past participle. In its second sense, shine is traditionally inflected shined. So, for example, we might say, "The sun shone brightly while I shined my shoes."  In 21st-century writing, however, the distinction is increasingly fuzzy, and shined is often used where shone would be the traditional … [Read more...]

On steroids

In news writing and politics, the phrase on steroids has become the go-to modifier for any new thing that is bigger and more advanced than a previous version. The phrase works as a metaphor, but it's been so extensively overused during the last few years that it's lost all rhetorical strength. At this point, on steroids is trite and should give way to fresher alternatives. Examples Think of it as Halloween "on steroids" celebrated over an entire month. [The Atlantic] "Wisconsin on … [Read more...]

Topography vs. typography

Topography is the study or description of the surface features of a place or region. The word is also sometimes shorthand for the features of an area---for example, The topography of the area is rough and hilly. Typography is the art and technique of arranging and composing type for printing. The adjectives corresponding to these words are topographical and typographical. Examples The province's topography comprises mostly mountains and rivers. [The Economist] The paper editions will come … [Read more...]

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