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Elicit vs. illicit

To elicit is to give rise to, to draw out, or to evoke. The word only works as a verb. Illicit is an adjective meaning illegal or not approved by custom. The words are not quite homophones, but they sound similar enough to elicit occasional confusion. Examples Elicit Good incentives can elicit greater effort. [New York Times] Psilocybin would be infused into their bloodstreams before a psychotherapy session, tailored to elicit positive memories. [Independent] Illicit For the curious … [Read more...]

Ad infinitum

In Latin, ad infinitum means to infinity. As a loan phrase in English, it sometimes means to infinity, but it's usually used as an adverb meaning endlessly or without limit. As in the examples below, it usually follows the verb or verb phrase it modifies. Ad infinitum is well established in English, so it does not need to be italicized in normal use. Examples On Sunday, President Hugo Chavez won the right to seek reelection ad infinitum. [Los Angeles Times] You go round in a circle ad … [Read more...]

Decent vs. descent

Decent is an adjective describing people and things that are (1) polite and respectable, and (2) passable or adequate. Descent is a noun referring to (1) an act or instance of going downward, (2) a way down, (3) hereditary lineage, and (4) a sudden visit or attack. Examples Decent and descent are not easily confused in speech because they are pronounced differently. But in writing they are often mixed up (especially decent in place of descent)---for example: But, after a rocky decent into … [Read more...]

Mice vs. mouses

For the small device used to guide the cursor on a computer display, many dictionaries endorse both mice and mouses as the plural form, and few usage and style guides offer a definitive preference (exception: AP says "mice"). We assumed mouses was standard for the computer device, but we were wrong. Searches of current news articles reveal 31 instances of "computer mice" to only seven of "computer mouses." And on the whole web, Google finds nearly 10 million results for "computer mice" to … [Read more...]

Analog vs. analogue

With the word traditionally spelled analogue, American writers tend to drop the silent -ue in some contexts, making analog. The spellings are largely interchangeable, though analog is usually used in relation to electronics, while analogue is often used in the sense something that bears analogy to something else. Outside the U.S., analogue prevails for all senses of the word. Related Analogue vs. analogy A similar trend has changed the American spelling of catalog (formerly catalogue), … [Read more...]

Collective nouns

Collective nouns are countable nouns that refer to groups of people, objects, or things. A collective noun differs from a mass noun (a noun that cannot be counted---e.g., love, water, evidence) because it can be pluralized. For example, each of these collective nouns refers to a group but can itself be pluralized: band faculty family government group herd mob orchestra staff team Singular vs. plural verbs The consensus among English grammar and usage authorities is … [Read more...]

Dependant vs. dependent

In American English, dependent is (1) an adjective meaning contingent on another, and (2) a noun meaning a person who is financially supported by someone else. Dependant is a rare alternative spelling with no definitions of its own. According to every British reference resource we checked, British English treats dependant as the noun and dependent as the adjective.1 2 3 We do find the distinction borne out in real-world usage, but it's by no means consistent. Both spellings regularly appear … [Read more...]

Crier vs. cryer

Crier is the preferred spelling of the noun referring to (1) one who cries, and (2) a person who makes announcements in public places. This is the case in all modern varieties of English. You might see cryer in old books,1 but this spelling was always less common than crier and has gradually disappeared from the language.2 Similar word pairs have not followed the same trajectory. Both drier and dryer, for instance, have stayed in the language and now have different meanings, while flier and … [Read more...]

Aggravate

Citing aggravate's Latin origins, some protectors of an imaginary traditional English claim the word only means to make worse (which is closely related to its Latin source, the verb aggravare, meaning to make heavier), and that it is wrongly used in the senses to irritate and to anger. But these newer senses have been in English for hundreds of years,1 and most speakers of the language have no problem with them. English is full of words that have changed over time. We can't explain why some … [Read more...]

Galore

Galore is one of the few English adjectives that is always postpositive (meaning it comes after the noun it modifies). Its definition is in abundance or in great numbers. It can modify count nouns (e.g., apples galore, kittens galore, tractors galore) as well as mass nouns (e.g., money galore, happiness galore, sunshine galore). Galore comes from the Irish Gaelic phrase go leór, meaning to sufficiency, but in English it denotes greater abundance than mere sufficiency. Irish Gaelic adjectives … [Read more...]

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