Like gangbusters

Usage of the idiom like gangbusters has become a little weird over the years. Originally it meant with great initial excitement, speedily, with a strong start, or with immediate success. The idiom originally came from the midcentury American radio program Gang Busters, which began each episode with great excitement and vigor (i.e., with lots of loud sound effects). You can hear some episodes here. But in the years since the show went off the air, the meaning of like gangbusters has become … [Read more...]

Alternate vs. alternative

An alternate is something or someone that serves in place of another. An alternative is a second option that does not replace the first. For example, when a road undergoing maintenance is closed to traffic, you have to take an alternate route. But when an under-construction road is still accessible to traffic, you might choose to take an alternative route to avoid congestion. The first option is still there, and the alternative gives you a choice. The words are also adjectives. As an … [Read more...]

Spoiled vs. spoilt

In American and Canadian English, spoiled is both a past-tense verb (e.g., it spoiled yesterday) and a past-participial adjective (e.g., the spoiled milk). In varieties of English from outside North America, spoiled is usually the past-tense verb (it spoiled yesterday),  and spoilt is usually the past-participial adjective (the spoilt milk). This is not a rule, however, and examples of spoiled used as an adjective outside the North America are easily found in all sorts of … [Read more...]

Per se

The loan phrase per se comes from the Latin itself, and in modern English it's usually an adjective meaning in itself, by itself, of itself, or intrinsically. Unlike most adjectives in English, per se usually follows the word it modifies, as in these examples: The best controlled studies conclude that bed-sharing per se does not put infants at risk. [Sacramento Bee] Our astonishment exists per se and isn't based on comparison with something else. [Wisława Szymborska] For the most part, … [Read more...]

Exercise vs. exorcise

To exercise is to engage in activity meant to improve one's physical fitness (and of course the word has many other definitions, none having to do with casting out spirits). To exorcise is to purge something spiritually bad. Generally, what is exorcised is the evil entity that is cast out, but the word sometimes takes as its direct object the person from whom the evil entity is cast out (as in the first and last examples below). Examples Most English speakers are comfortable with exercise, so … [Read more...]

Engrain vs. ingrain

Ingrain is the standard spelling of the verb meaning to impress deeply. Engrain is an accepted variant, but it appears only rarely. It does not have any meanings of its own. The preference for ingrain extends to ingrained, which is actually more common than the uninflected form. Examples Ingrained is preferred throughout the English-speaking world. Here are a few examples of the word in action: Long-term education is needed to change historically and culturally ingrained habits and to … [Read more...]


The verb burst is usually uninflected in the past tense and as a past participle Bursted is an old form that still appears colloquially, but it is widely considered incorrect and is best avoided in formal writing. It always bears replacement with the uninflected burst. Though considered incorrect, bursted has a long history. The Oxford English Dictionary has examples from as long ago as the early 16th century,1 and a historical ngram graphing the use of bursted over the centuries shows that … [Read more...]

American English vs. British English 2

[QUIZZIN 6] … [Read more...]

Burned vs. burnt

Burned and burnt both work as the past tense and past participle of burn. Both are used throughout the English-speaking world, but usage conventions vary. American and Canadian writers use burned more often, and they use burnt mainly in adjectival phrases such as burnt out and burnt orange. Outside North America, the two forms are used interchangeably, and neither is significantly more common than the other. Burned is the older form. Burnt came about during a period in the 16th through 18th … [Read more...]

French noun gender

One of the most important differences between French and English is how gender is used. Every French noun is either masculine or feminine, and this affects how the noun is treated. This phenomenon comes from the language's Latin origins. Archaic English had a few gender-related rules, but they've mostly disappeared over time. When learning the gender of French nouns, keep in mind that the meaning of the noun usually has nothing to do with whether it is masculine or feminine. Think of it as an … [Read more...]

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