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Flair vs. flare

Flare, which is both noun or a verb (the verb usually followed by up), almost always has to do with fire, though it's sometimes used metaphorically, as in the phrase tempers flare. The other exception is where it refers to a rounded, spreading shape, as in a piece of furniture or an article of clothing. Flair refers to either (1) distinctive elegance or style, or (2) a natural talent or aptitude. For example, one might dress with a lot of flair, or one might have a flair for writing … [Read more...]

Ascent vs. assent

Ascent means (1) the act of rising or moving upward or (2) an upward slope. It's the opposite of descent. Assent means agreement or acquiescence. Assent may also be used as a verb meaning to agree. When you give your assent to something, you assent to it. Ascent's corresponding verb is ascend. Examples He stuck his finger into a jar of red ink and left an imprint signifying his assent. [New York Times] There has been no stopping the ascent of Alexa Chung's well-documented … [Read more...]

Allude vs. elude

Elude means to evade or escape from. Allude means to make indirect reference. For example, if say, "I'd love to visit New Orleans, but preferably not in early September," you might infer that I'm alluding to Hurricane Katrina, which took place in early September. Similar distinctions apply to these words' derivatives. Elusion and allusion are sometimes confused, and illusion is in the mix as well. Examples Just for fun, let's look at two examples of allude and elude used in place of each … [Read more...]

Connote vs. denote

A word or phrase denotes its literal meaning (i.e., its dictionary definition), and it connotes all the meanings and associations it bears in addition to its literal meaning. By extension, denotations are the literal meanings of words and phrases, and connotations are the meanings associated with them. The words childish and childlike, for instance, have the same denotation---both mean of or resembling a child---but childish tends to have negative connotations because we use it to describe bad … [Read more...]

Nonfinite verbs

A nonfinite verb is a verb that does not function as the predicate verb in a clause. While some nonfinite verbs take the form of past or present participles, they are generally not inflected---that is, they don't have mood, tense, number, aspect, gender, or person. The opposite of a nonfinite verb is a finite verb, which does serve as a predicate verb---for example, the verbs in She walks, He sings, and I went. There are three main types of nonfinite verbs: gerunds, infinitives, and … [Read more...]

Ordinance vs. ordnance

An ordinance is a municipal or county law. Ordnance is a mass noun referring to military materials such as weapons, ammunition, equipment, and vehicles. Although ordinance and ordnance now share no definitions, they both come from the Middle English ordinaunce, meaning to set in order. A third word, ordonnance, which still appears occassionally, began as a variant of ordinance but has since taken a meaning of its own---namely, the arrangement of parts in a building, picture, or literary … [Read more...]

Shat vs. shitted

Shat is the widely accepted past-tense inflection of shit. It was formed by analogy with the verb sit, which becomes sat in the past tense. It was originally a humorous and slightly sanitized version of the curse word, but it has become the standard form. There are two alternatives: (1) shitted, which appears about once for every instance of shat; and (2) shit, uninflected in the past tense. The second option likens the word to verbs like fit and knit, which are usually uninflected in most … [Read more...]

Baloney vs. bologna

Bologna refers to a type of sausage made of finely ground meat that has been cooked and smoked. Baloney is nonsense. It is an early 20th-century American coinage derived from bologna. It may also be influenced by blarney, which in one of its definitions means nonsense or deceptive talk. Our reference sources differ on whether baloney and bologna are homophones in English. Some say both should be pronounced "baloney," while others say bologna should be pronounced like the Italian city, Bologna … [Read more...]

French partitive article

When referring to a noun whose quantity or amount is not specified, French speakers use the partitive article de, which conveys essentially the same meaning as some or any in English. For example, rather than saying the equivalent of I bought cheese, French speakers always say, I bought some cheese. Rather than saying, Do you have pets? they always say, Do you have some pets? This rule cannot be ignored. If you ask for the cheese or just cheese without the partitive article, French speakers … [Read more...]

Boughten

Boughten is an archaic participial inflection of the verb to buy. It was once a fairly common colloquial form---it was used to describe something bought instead of homemade---and it still appears occasionally, but it is widely seen as incorrect and might be considered out of place in formal writing. This does not mean that those who use it in their speech are ignorant or poorly informed. For instance, the word appears in these old works of literature: But I interrupted him by telling him … [Read more...]

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