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To vs. too

To is a versatile preposition. A few of its many definitions are (1) toward, (2) reaching as far as, and (3) until.1 Too is an adverb meaning (1) additionally, (2) excessively, (3) very, or (4) extremely.2 Whenever you're in doubt about whether to use to or too, see if any of those synonyms of too (i.e., additionally, extremely, etc.) would work in its place. If none fits, then to is probably the word you're looking for. Usually when someone uses to in place of too or vice-versa, it is simply … [Read more...]

Supposably

Supposedly is the dictionary-approved word for believed or reputed to be the case. Supposably is a colloquial variant that may be considered out of place in formal writing. Of course, supposably is technically a word---an adverb derived from supposable, which means capable of being supposed, which is significantly different from the meaning of supposed---but we can find no recent examples of the word used in this sense. … [Read more...]

Follow up, follow-up, followup

Follow-up and followup are different spellings of the same word. The hyphenated form is more common, but the unhyphenated form is gaining ground. In either form, it works only as a noun or an adjective. When you need a verb, make it two words---follow up. For example, you might email a colleague to follow up on an earlier exchange, and your colleague might respond to your followup with a followup question.   Examples Follow-up/followup A follow-up call from the mayor's office asked whether … [Read more...]

Dispatch vs. despatch

There is no difference between dispatch and despatch. The latter is an alternative spelling that was common in the 19th century and earlier, but dispatch has gained undisputed dominance in modern English. Despatch has mostly disappeared from the language---except in the U.K., where it appears in place of dispatch about a third of the time---and dispatch is the preferred spelling for all senses of the word. The main exception is in the phrase despatch box, which refers to the lectern in the … [Read more...]

England, Great Britain, United Kingdom

(Note: This post is meant for geographically challenged American readers.) The British Isles The British Isles are the group of islands northwest of continental Europe. The main islands are Great Britain and Ireland, and there are thousands of smaller ones. Great Britain Great Britain is the largest of the British Isles, comprising the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales. It was originally named Great Britain to differentiate it from Lesser Britain, which denoted the region of … [Read more...]

Phrases

A phrase is a group of words functioning as a syntactical unit. It's a broad term, comprising groups of words of many different types and functions. Phrases function as all parts of speech, as both subjects and predicates, as clauses, as idioms, and as figures of speech. This is by no means a complete list of the functions of phrases, though, as virtually any small group of words can be called a phrase. Background There are no rules governing what does and what does not constitute a phrase. … [Read more...]

Naval vs. navel

Naval is an adjective meaning of or related to ships, shipping, or the navy. Navel is a noun meaning the mark on the surface of the mammalian abdomen where the umbilical cord was attached during gestation---i.e., the belly button. Navel is also the correct spelling for the sweet orange. Though the words sound the same (please correct us if this is not true in any variety of English), they are not etymologically related. Naval comes from the Latin navis, meaning ship, while navel has origins … [Read more...]

Sooner rather than later

The phrase sooner rather than later is wordy for soon. How this clunky, illogical phrase ever became popular is a mystery, but perhaps some writers feel that soon on its own is not emphatic enough. Available alternatives include before long, shortly, sooner than expected, and in the near future. And when these are not strong enough, there's always very soon, as soon as possible, and now. Examples In fact, any borrowing that you are contemplating should be done sooner rather than later as rates … [Read more...]

Afflict vs. inflict

Afflict, which takes the preposition with, means to impose grievous physical or mental suffering on. Inflict, which takes the preposition on, means to mete out or impose (something on someone). These verbs are easily confused because they're similar in sound and meaning, but there are clear differences between them. Aside from their different prepositions, they also use objects differently. The direct object of afflict is the person, group, or thing suffering from the affliction (e.g., she … [Read more...]

Abjure vs. adjure

The verbs abjure and adjure both involve solemnity or earnestness, but their meanings are different. To abjure is to recant solemnly, renounce, repudiate, or forswear---for example: Yasser Arafat, by contrast, had never permanently abjured violence. [The Guardian] Of course, not all liberals abjure the Constitution. [American Spectator] Adjure, which is often used in religious contexts,means to appeal or entreat solemnly---for example: A father-son duo ... adjure us to wake up lest America … [Read more...]

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