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Oppress, repress, suppress

To oppress means to keep (someone) down by unjust force or authority. To repress is (1) to hold back, or (2) to put down by force. Suppress, which is broader and more common than the other two, means (1) to put an end to, (2) to inhibit, and (3) to keep from being revealed.There is some crossover between these verbs---and suppress often covers all three words' uses---but oppress usually applies to the mistreatment of a person or group by a more powerful one, repress usually applies to … [Read more...]

Presumptive vs. presumptuous

Presumptive means based on presumption. It's often synonymous with probable. Something that is presumptive can be reasonably guessed based on ample evidence.Presumptuous means (1) going beyond what is proper, or (2) excessively forward. One who is presumptuous presumes too much. Examples Presumptuous It seems cold to disappear to the spare room, presumptuous to sleep in "our" bedroom. [Guardian]It is somewhat presumptuous of me to offer anything since I only know Christchurch from … [Read more...]

Smoothe, smoothen

Smooth is both an adjective and a verb. If you want to make something smooth, you smooth it. Some dictionaries list smoothen, a verb meaning to make or become smooth, but the word is superfluous and can always give way to smooth.Smoothe, which appears about a tenth as often as smoothen, is an old secondary spelling of smooth, but it does not commonly appear in 21st-century published writing. Examples In each of these sentences, smoothe or smoothen could give way to the more … [Read more...]

Sic vs. sick

Sic is (1) a Latin-derived word used to indicate that quoted text is reproduced as it originally appeared, and (2) a verb meaning to set upon or to incite to hostile action. For example, you might sic your dog on a snake. Sick, which is never a verb (except, rarely, in the colloquial phrasal verb sick up), is a misspelling when used in this sense.Sic is inflected as sicced, siccing, and sics. Your spell check might say these forms are wrong, but spell check is behind the times in this … [Read more...]

Not hardly

Not hardly is a hardy colloquialism that has been in English a long time and is likely to stay, but it might be considered out of place in serious writing. Because hardly means barely or almost not, adding the modifier not creates a double negative. Taken literally, not hardly would mean definitely or very. In practice, though, not hardly means the same as hardly. Examples Writers often use not hardly to create a colloquial tone. In many of the examples we found, not hardly is a standalone … [Read more...]

Ring vs. wring

To wring is to twist, squeeze, or clasp firmly, especially to extract liquid. It is the appropriate word in wring [one's] neck, meaning to choke. Ring would almost make sense there, as wringing a neck involves holding one's fingers in a ringlike position. Nonetheless, wring is the conventional spelling in the phrase. Examples Most people raise a rooster until he is six or seven months old, then they take him out behind the house to wring his neck or take a hatchet and cut his head … [Read more...]

Around vs. round

Round works virtually anywhere around would work. The reverse is not true, as round has a number of definitions it doesn't share with around. For example, it wouldn't work to say that the edge of a circle is around, and I wouldn't invite you to play an around of golf. But even though round works as a breezier alternative to around, round tends to create a casual tone, so around is usually safer in serious or formal writing.British writers in particular are wont to use round in place of … [Read more...]

Jam vs. jamb

A jamb is a post that forms the side of a door or window. A jam is (1) a preserve made from boiled and sugared fruit, (2) a congestion, (3) a difficult situation, and (4) a song that one holds to be especially moving or meaningful. The word also works as a verb in several senses, including (1) to drive or wedge into a tight position, (2) to lock into an unworkable position, and (3) to cram. Examples Jamb Damages to the door and door jamb were estimated at $1,000. [Peabody … [Read more...]

Economics vs. finance

Both economics and finance involve money. The difference is that economics (conventionally treated as a singular noun despite resembling a plural) is large-scale or abstract, while finance is particular, usually involving the monetary matters of a person, company, government, or household. For instance, a profitable business has financial success, and a country full of profitable businesses has economic success. Examples In the First World, including the United States, Japan, and the Czech … [Read more...]

Heterogeneous vs. heterogenous

Definitions and usage Heterogeneous: consisting of dissimilar elements.Heterogenous: 1. not originating within the body; 2. of foreign origin; 3. heterogeneous.Heterogeneous, with that fourth e, is the opposite of homogeneous (which is different from homogenous). Most of us will never have use for heterogenous in its most strictly defined senses, where it is a term used almost exclusively in biology and medicine. In general usage, however, it is commonly used in place … [Read more...]

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