An object is the part of a sentence---usually a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun---that is affected by a verb's action. Objects may be direct objects or indirect objects. Direct objects A direct object is directly acted upon by the verb. For example, each of the underlined terms below is directly acted upon by the immediately preceding verb. We built homepages. She popped the balloon. The cat clawed the rug. Indirect objects An indirect object is affected by the action, but not … [Read more...]

Cord vs. chord

A cord is (1) a string or rope, (2) an electrical cable, (3) a measure of wood equal to 128 cubic feet, (4) a ribbed fabric (short for corduroy) or pants made from the fabric, and (5) one of several types of cords found within the bodies of animals (e.g., the spinal cord and the umbilical cord). Chord is usually a musical term (though it is sometimes used metaphorically) denoting any combination of three or more pitches played at the same time, and it also has a few rare uses in geometry and … [Read more...]

Forego vs. forgo

The original definition of forego is to go before. This definition is easy to remember because both forego and before have the syllable fore, with an e. To forgo, meanwhile, is to do without (something) or to pass up voluntarily. But forgo has so completely encroached on forego's territory that the latter's older sense is now essentially lost (outside legal contexts and the phrase foregone conclusion---see below), and forgo now bears the secondary definition to go before. The past-tense forms … [Read more...]

Destroy vs. destruct

Destruct is a mostly unnecessary variant of the verb destroy. Derived in the 17th century by backformation from destruction (destroy's corresponding noun), destruct had mostly faded from the language by the mid-1900s, when it was revived in rocketry and in the phrases self-destruct and auto-destruct. Outside these uses, destruct can usually give way to destroy. Examples In rocket science, to destruct means to destroy (a craft) intentionally after launch, usually due to defective … [Read more...]

Portend vs. portent

Portend is a verb. It means (1) to serve as an omen or a warning of, or (2) to forecast. Portent is a noun. It has two main definitions: (1) an indication of something calamitous about to occur, and (2) a prophetic or threatening quality. The two words are closely related---both derived from the Latin portendere, meaning to indicate---but they have different functions and share no common ground in today's English. Their corresponding adjective is portentous, which does not have an … [Read more...]

Enquire vs. inquire

Enquire and inquire are often just different spellings of the same word. Where the two are used for the same purposes, inquire is the more common form. This extends to derivative words (inquiry, inquirer, etc.), and it is the case throughout the English speaking-world. There is one qualification to this. Some Britons make the distinction that enquire and its derivatives apply to informal queries, and inquire and its derivatives to formal investigations. While this distinction appears widely … [Read more...]

Liter vs. litre

There's no difference in meaning between liter and litre. Liter is the preferred spelling in American English, and litre is preferred in all other main varieties of English. The word is much less common in American English than elsewhere because Americans generally use U.S. customary units rather than the metric system, which other English-speaking countries use. In American English, liter comes up mostly in reference to beverages (for some reason) and foreign cars. Examples Outside the … [Read more...]

Amend vs. emend

To amend is (1) to change for the better, (2) to put right, or (3) to alter by adding. The word's corresponding noun is amendment.  Emend means to improve by editing (especially a text). Its corresponding noun is emendation. Emend is rare because it's mainly confined to contexts related to professional writing and editing. Etymology The two words share a root in the Latin ēmendāre, which means, roughly, to remove fault. The older amend came to English, around the 13th century, via French, … [Read more...]

Sui generis

The Latin loan phrase sui generis, which translates literally to of its own kind, is used in English to mean unique. The phrase is singular and doesn't conventionally apply to plural nouns (as only one thing can be unique in a certain way). Yet writers often disregard the phrase's literal Latin meaning and apply it to plural nouns anyway. Sui generis is long established in English, so there's no need to italicize it in ordinary use. Examples But Webb is sui generis, and I doubt anyone … [Read more...]

Proportional vs. proportionate

Something that is proportional (1) forms a whole with other quantities, or (2) is considered quantitatively with respect to something else. Proportionate means in due proportion. The distinction is subtle, but proportionate describes something that is made that way by an active agent, and it often describes quantities that are difficult to measure. Proportional doesn't necessarily involve an active agent, and it is the preferred term where actual measurements are concerned. Still, because the … [Read more...]

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