Forty vs. fourty

The number 40 is spelled forty. This is true in all main varieties of modern English. Fourty is a surprisingly common misspelling that appears most often in the spelling of compound numbers such as 41 (misspelled fourty-one), 42, and so on---for example: Fourty-five percent of Australians strongly agreed with the value proposition and two percent strongly disagreed. [] Fourty-nine stocks depreciated in price during the week, lower than the 58 of the preceding … [Read more...]

Polygamy vs. polygyny vs. polyandry

Polygamy refers to the practice of having more than one spouse. It is broader than polygyny, which refers to situations where one man has multiple wives, and polyandry, which refers to one woman with multiple husbands. It is widely assumed that polygamy denotes specifically the marriage of one man to multiple women. This is probably because polygyny is more common (or more newsworthy, at least) than polyandry. In current news writing, polygamy mostly appears in reference to North American … [Read more...]

Waddle vs. wattle

To waddle is to walk with a duck-like gait. The word also works as a noun denoting the duck-like walk. A wattle is (1) the fleshy, wrinkly fold of skin hanging from the chin of some birds and lizards, (2) a construction of poles intertwined with twigs, reeds, or branches, and (3) any of various Australian shrubs or trees of the genus Acacia. Waddle is more narrowly defined, always pertaining to the way of walking, and wattle is rarer. If it helps in remembering them, note that the two d's … [Read more...]

Prophecy vs. prophesy

A prophecy is (1) a prediction of the future, or (2) a revelatory utterance. The word is only a noun. Prophesy is a verb. To prophesy is (1) to predict, (2) to reveal by divine inspiration, or (3) to speak as a prophet. Examples Prophecy If the West does nothing, then Carney's prophecy will be self-fulfilling. [Winnipeg Free Press] Alfonzo's prophecy didn't seem plausible at the time: oil made every petro-state ruler a Midas. [Telegraph] As with Orwell's classic, the lines between … [Read more...]


The adverb hence has a few meanings, including (1) for this reason, (2) from this source, (3) from now, (4) from that time, and (5) from this place. It once functioned as a noun in the phrase from hence, but in modern English that redundancy has fallen out of favor. Examples In these examples, hence is synonymous with therefore: It's that India has an airline that is run by politicians and hence can be milked by various interest groups. [Wall Street Journal] The Orthodox Church is surely a … [Read more...]

Authoritative vs. authoritive

Authoritative might sound like it has one syllable too many, but it is the standard form of the adjective meaning having or arising from authority. Authoritive is arguably more logical---the root noun is authority, not authoritaty---but English is not always logical with these things, and authoritive only rarely appears in edited writing. In a Google Ngram graphing the words' use over the past two centuries, the shorter form barely registers against the longer one. And although it is possible to … [Read more...]


The archaic-sounding verb methinks, meaning it seems to me, is likely to continue appearing in English as long as we keep reading Shakespeare, who, in Hamlet, immortalized the word with the line, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Today, the word is often used in reference to the Shakespeare play, often with other language from that line---for example: Angelo, methinks the coach doth protest too much. [Sports Illustrated] It sounds reassuring, but methinks she doth protest too … [Read more...]


In English, a contraction is an abbreviated word formed by removing a letter or multiple letters from a longer word or phrase. The omitted letters are replaced by an apostrophe. For example, he's is a contraction of he is, won't is a contraction of will not, o'clock is a contraction of of the clock, and y'all is a contraction of you all. Are contractions informal? There is a longstanding superstition that contractions are always out of place in formal or serious writing. This may be a good … [Read more...]

Amalgam vs. amalgamation

Amalgam means a combination of diverse elements. Amalgamation is sometimes used in the same sense---and dictionaries list it as a variant of amalgam---but today it's often used to refer to the act of combining diverse elements. So an amalgam is created through amalgamation. Examples In these examples, amalgam denotes the combination resulting from the mixture of diverse elements: Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Libya as a country is actually an amalgam of about 140 tribes and clans. [NPR] Marcel … [Read more...]

Waive vs. wave

To waive is (1) to give up a claim or right voluntarily, (2) to refrain from enforcing something, or (3) to set something aside temporarily. To wave is to move back and forth or up and down or to make an up-and-down or back-and-forth hand signal. The words are closely related to waiver and waver, which have related distinctions. Examples The guard will wave you through, and you will follow the road around the entire stadium until you come upon Parking Lot P.  [Los Angeles Times] Some … [Read more...]

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