Lighted vs. lit

Lighted and lit each work as the past tense and past participle of the verb light. Both have long histories in English and are used throughout the English-speaking world, so you are generally safe using the one that sounds best to you. Keep in mind, though, that lit is generally favored for both uses outside the U.S. (though lighted, again, appears some of the time). Lighted, where it does appear, is usually an adjective (e.g., a lighted grill), while lit is more often a verb (e.g., she lit the … [Read more...]

Childish vs. childlike

Childish and childlike (each one word, unhyphenated) have roughly the same definition---of, like, or related to a child or childhood---but childish has negative connotations, and childlike usually does not. Childish is often synonymous with words like infantile, immature, silly, juvenile, and foolish, all of which are usually negative. Childlike is closer to words like innocent, trusting, unfeigned, and pure, which are not negative. Examples For example, these writers use childish as a … [Read more...]

E. coli

E. coli is an abbreviation of the species name Escherichia coli, which denotes a bacterium commonly found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. By convention, species names are always italicized (though many news publications don't follow this convention with E. coli). The first word (denoting the genus) is capitalized, and the second word (the species) is not capitalized. This is true whether we're talking about Escherichia coli, Canis lupus, Homo sapiens, or any other species. Species … [Read more...]

Role vs. roll

Role relates to people's functions and to parts played by performers. Roll is broader, having many definitions, including (1) to move by repeatedly turning over, (2) to recur, (3) a register or catalogue, (4) a list of names, (5) a deep rumble, (6) a rapid succession of short sounds, and (7) a scrolled piece of parchment or paper. That fourth definition is the one meant in the phrase roll call, which is commonly misspelled role call. The homophones roll and role actually have a common … [Read more...]

Psych vs. psyche

Psyche, though listed in some dictionaries as a variant of psych, is mainly a noun referring to (1) the spirit or soul, and (2) the center of thought, emotion, and behavior within the human mind. Psyche is pronounced sike-ee. As a verb, psych (inflected psyched, psyches, and psyching) has many uses. To psych is (1) to put into the right frame of mind, (2) to excite emotionally, (3) to psychologically intimidate, and (4) to analyze. There are also two phrasal verbs involving psyche: (1) … [Read more...]


The main definitions of the noun anathema are (1) a detested person or thing, and (2) a formal ecclesiastical ban. The term comes directly from Latin, where it meant a doomed offering. It is most often used to denote someone or something that is reviled by a particular group. It conventionally functions a mass noun, so it does not take an article. For example, he is anathema is more conventional than he is an anathema and he is the anathema. Anathema is widely misused, sometimes as a noun and … [Read more...]

Penal vs. penile

The main definitions of penal are (1) of, relating to, or prescribing punishment, (2) subject to punishment, and (3) serving as punishment. In short, it has to do with punishment. Penile means of or relating to the penis. Examples Confusing penal and penile can have unfortunate results---for example: When is it appropriate to consider a penal implant for a male in order to improve his sexual performance? [Toledo Blade] Unnatural practices between males are a clear violation of Malawi's … [Read more...]

Non sequitur

The noun non sequitur refers to a statement or conclusion that does not follow logically from what preceded it. It is two words. It comes from Latin, where it means, literally, it does not follow. Non sequitur is unhyphenated except when it's a phrasal adjective preceding a noun. Because it has been in English a long time, it is unitalicized. A non sequitur isn't just a random statement that comes out of nowhere. It is a statement that conspicuously does not follow what precedes it. For … [Read more...]

Ban vs. bar

In their definitions relating to prohibition and exclusion, the verb ban usually applies to things, and bar usually applies to people. For example, you might ban chocolate cake from your house and say that anyone caught sneaking in chocolate cake will be barred indefinitely. We qualify the distinction with "usually," however, because it is not a rule, and exceptions abound. Meanwhile, the two words are synonyms when applied to actions (so the act of eating chocolate cake might be either banned … [Read more...]

Former, latter

Former applies to the first in a series of two things. Latter applies to the second. Logically, the words don't work for groups of more than two things. In such cases, first, second, etc. and last work best. … [Read more...]

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