Attend to vs. tend to

Attend to and tend to are synonymous in two senses: (1) to work for or be a servant to, and (2) to apply one's attention to. This covers most of both phrases' territory. Where they are not synonymous is where tend to means to have a tendency to.Both attend and tend can be intransitive---that is, used without the to---but often the to is necessary to avoid confusion with other senses of attend and tend. Examples For example, the writer wisely includes to in this sentence because attend … [Read more...]

Vagina vs. vulva

In female mammals, the vagina is the passage leading from the opening of the vulva to the cervix of the uterus. The word is commonly misused in place of vulva, which denotes the external genital organs of the female mammal. This mistake is so common that we probably can't stop it, but grownup users of English should nevertheless know the difference between the words.For both words, some dictionaries list Latin plurals, vaginae and vulvae. These forms are indeed standard in scientific and … [Read more...]

Toxicology vs. toxology

Toxicology is the study of poisons and of chemical effects on the human body. The term has an extended sense in forensic science, where a toxicology report is an analysis of the chemicals---drugs, poison, or anything else---in a deceased person's bloodstream. The word is also sometimes used to describe drug tests performed on living people.Toxology is the study of archery. The word is so rare that most abridged dictionaries don't include it. Examples Toxicology It could take six weeks to … [Read more...]

Unknown quantity

Unknown quantity is an idiomatic phrase from mathematics. Though it originally referred to unspecified variables, it's now used more broadly to mean a person or thing whose action or effect is unknown or unpredictable. For example, we might use unknown quantity to describe someone whose behavior is erratic, someone who has received a chance to do something for the first time, or someone we simply don't know much about.Of course, unknown quantity can still be used to describe an unspecified … [Read more...]

Earthy vs. earthly

Earthly and earthy were originally synonyms, but the adjectives have undergone differentiation over time. Today, earthly means of, relating to, or characteristic of the earth (often as opposed to heavenly or divine). Earthy means (1) plain, (2) natural, or (3) indecent or coarse. Food and wine writers love using earthy to describe plain flavors that balance extremes. Examples Earthly Walk through the big red god gates and you leave the earthly world behind, entering a world where the gods and … [Read more...]

Usually always

Because usually and always have conflicting meanings, usually always is a self-contradictory phrase. People often use it where they mean simply usually or, in other words, most of the time. So in most cases, always is the unnecessary word and could be removed with no loss of meaning. … [Read more...]

In the throes of

Throes refers to a condition of agonizing struggle or difficulty. It is the word used in the phrase in the throes of, which means to be in the midst of (something difficult). Because throes are by definition violent, painful, or otherwise agonizing, it doesn't make much sense to use in the throes of as a neutral synonym of in the midst of. For example, it would be odd to say, "We are in the throes of an economic recovery"---this phrase comes from a recent news story---because an economic … [Read more...]

Straight vs. strait

Straight is primarily (1) an adjective meaning extending in the same direction without curving, and (2) an adverb meaning directly. (It does have some rare noun senses, mainly referring to straight parts of roads and straight lines.)Strait is almost always a noun. It means a narrow channel joining two larger bodies of water. It also has a few mostly archaic adjective definitions, but these are almost never used.The phrasal adjective strait-laced uses one of the archaic definitions … [Read more...]

Canvas vs. canvass

Canvas, with one s, is always a noun. It refers to (1) a heavy, coarse, closely woven fabric used for tents and sails; (2) a piece of such fabric on which a painting is executed; (3) a fabric of coarse open weave, used as a foundation for needlework; and (4) a background against which events unfold.Canvass, with two s's, has a few rare noun meanings, but it is most often used as a verb. Its main definitions are (1) to examine carefully or discuss thoroughly, (2) to go through an area to … [Read more...]

Analyse vs. analyze

Analyze is preferred in American and Canadian English. Analyse is the preferred spelling outside North America. There are no other differences between analyze and analyse. The s/z distinction extends to the participles, analyse/analyze and analysing/analyzing, as well as to other derivatives such as analyser/analyzer and analysable/analyzable, but analysis is the corresponding noun in all varieties of English. Examples For example, these British and Australian spell analyse with an s: She … [Read more...]

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