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Envision vs. envisage

Both envision and envisage mean to visualize, but they differ slightly in connotation. To envisage is to contemplate or consider something---usually something real---in a certain way, or to predict a particular set of circumstances based on evidence or strong belief. Envisaging often relates to planning real-world projects. When you envision something, it's usually more hypothetical, imaginary, or removed from reality. The difference is subtle, but think of it this way: Envisaging usually … [Read more...]

Lay vs. lie

Lie and lay both have many definitions, but they're most often confused where lie means to recline and lay means to put down. But the distinction is simple: Lay needs an object---something being laid---while lie cannot have an object. For example, you might lay a book on the table, lay a sweater on the bed, or lay a child in her crib. When you feel tired at the end of the day, you may lie down. But you can't lie a book anywhere, and you can't lay down (no object) at the end of the day. The … [Read more...]

Homogenous vs. homogeneous

Homogeneous means (1) of the same or similar nature, and (2) uniform in structure or composition. Its corresponding noun is homogeneity. Homogenous, whose corresponding noun is homogeny, is a little-used biological term whose old sense has mostly been lost. Today, it's primarily a variant of homogeneous in general usage, though it still has uses in science, where spelling it any other way would be considered an error. Though some careful nonscientific writers continue to try to keep the words … [Read more...]

Deign

To deign is to condescend to do something. When you deign to perform an action, you perceive the action to be beneath your dignity, but you reluctantly do it anyway. For example, a person used to fine dining might deign to eat fast food when nothing else is available, or a usually dignified man might deign to dress up as a clown to entertain his grandkids. In conventional usage, deign is always followed by to. For instance, instead of she doesn't deign say hello, we write she doesn't deign to … [Read more...]

Subjects and predicates

Every sentence and clause must have two components: the subject and the predicate. The subject is the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that performs the action of the sentence's main verb. The predicate includes the action (the verb) and all attributes of the action. In English, subjects almost always come before predicates. But they don't always come right at the beginnings of sentences. For instance, consider this sentence: If total national debt across all sectors is calculated, as opposed … [Read more...]

Empathy vs. sympathy

When you understand and feel another's feelings for yourself, you have empathy. It's often spoken of as a character attribute that people have to varying degrees. For example, if hearing a tragic news story makes you feel almost as if the story concerns you personally, you have the ability to empathize. When you sympathize with someone, you have compassion for that person, but you don't necessarily feel her feelings. For instance, if your feelings toward someone who is experiencing hardship … [Read more...]

Spendthrift

Because spendthrift contains the word thrift, which on its own means frugal or wise with money, some people mistakenly assume a spendthrift is someone who is frugal or careful with money. But it actually means the opposite; a spendthrift is someone who spends money recklessly or wastefully. In Middle English, where spendthrift originates, thrift meant well-being or prosperity, so spendthrift literally translates in modern English to spend prosperity. In other words, a spendthrift is someone who … [Read more...]

Descendant vs. descendent

Descendant is both an adjective (meaning either moving downward or descending from an ancestor) and a noun (for someone who descends from someone else). Descendent is a less common variant used indiscriminately in place of descendant in all its uses. There is a traditional distinction between the two forms, and some English reference books still give it credence. It is that descendent is the adjective and descendant the noun, the logical basis for this being that the older adjective should … [Read more...]

Smorgasbord

Smorgasbord, a loanword from Swedish (originating in Old Norse), means (1) a meal featuring a variety of dishes, or (2) a varied collection. In both the word's accepted senses, variety is key. For example, these writers use smorgasbord in its traditional sense because it refers to a variety:  It's a smorgasbord of gripes ranging from income inequality to poor housing to executive pay. [Wall Street Journal] As usual, Harvey pulls in a smorgasbord of musical genres, including dark-wave, dirty … [Read more...]

For God’s sake

By the usual standards of English grammar, the irreverent utterance of exasperation should be for God's sake, with an apostrophe to show that god's is possessive and with sake in the singular form, but the phrase appears idiomatically in several other forms---for example: He's a third-stringer for God's sakes! [The Collegian (link now dead)] This is a school, for god sake, not a wilderness attraction! [LBPost] They can't even keep their hockey team, for god sakes, and Canada gets one? … [Read more...]

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