The noun potentiality is often used where potential or possibility would make more sense. It has a two main dictionary-approved definitions---(1) the inherent capacity to grow or come into being, and (2) a person or thing that possesses potential. The first definition is almost identical to the main definition of potential, however, and the second comes very close to possibility. So potentiality often bears replacement with those more common words. Examples For example, potential could replace … [Read more...]

Palate, palette, pallet

The palate is (1) the roof of the mouth, and (2) the sense of taste, and it's also a fancy word for flavor, especially in writing on food wine. A palette is the board painters use to hold and mix their colors. By extension, it sometimes denotes the range of colors used in a design or work of art. Pallet usually refers to a platform used for moving cargo or freight, but the word has several other rare definitions in industry and shipping. Examples The snaptastic house-made sausage sported … [Read more...]

A whole nother

The common phrase a whole nother, formed by splitting the adjective another, makes no sense from a logical or grammatical standpoint, but it is often used informally or to create a colloquial tone in writing. Because it is informal, the phrase might be considered out of place in any type of serious writing. A whole other makes more sense, and there are one-word equivalents, such as different, separate, and unrelated, that are usually better in formal contexts. Many writers insert an … [Read more...]

Skilful vs. skillful

For the adjective meaning with skill or having skill, skillful is the preferred spelling in American English, and skilful is preferred in all other main varieties of English. Skillful appears with relatively high frequency in Canadian publications, but the ratio is still 4:1 in favor of skilful. Aside from spelling, there is no difference between the two words. Examples U.S. Many of his ­essays and stories would benefit from skillful paring. [Wall Street Journal] Two of the most skillful … [Read more...]


Because rid, meaning to free from, is uninflected in its past-tense, perfect, and past-participle forms, ridded is a superfluous word. It's listed in a few dictionaries, but most usage authorities recommend against it. So, for example, "we rid ourselves of it yesterday" and "we have rid ourselves of all our belongings" are correct. Ridden is a useful word, but it has nothing to do with the verb rid. It's a participle of ride, and it's an adjective meaning afflicted or dominated by … [Read more...]

Hear, hear vs. here, here

Hear, hear (usually with a comma and set apart as a self-contained sentence) is the conventional spelling of the colloquial exclamation used to express approval for a speaker or sentiment. It's essentially short for hear him, hear him or hear this, hear this, where these phrases are a sort of cheer. Here, here is widely regarded as a misspelling, although it is a common one, and there are ways to logically justify its use. But for what it's worth, hear, hear is the original form (the Oxford … [Read more...]

Swath vs. swathe

Swath is only a noun. It refers to (1) the width of a scythe stroke, (2) a path made by mowing, or (3) something likened to a path made by mowing. Today, it's usually used in the third, figurative sense. Swathe is usually a verb, meaning, primarily, to wrap or bind with or as if with bandage. It also functions as a noun meaning a wrapping or bandage, but it is rarely used this way in today's English. Examples Swath Doherty represents a large swath of suburban New Jersey where resentment … [Read more...]

Gibe, jibe, jive

Gibe refers to a taunt or a derisive remark. It functions as both a verb (to taunt) and a noun (taunt). Jibe has a nautical use (relating to turning the sail to go on an opposite tack), but it's most often used to mean agree or to be in accord. Jive refers to either jazz music, dancing, or nonsense talk, although it can sound old-fashioned or ironic in its senses unrelated to dance. It functions as both a noun (for the dance, music, or talk) and a verb (to engage in the dance, music, or … [Read more...]

Arouse vs. rouse

The verbs arouse and rouse both mean (1) to awake from sleep and (2) to excite. But arouse is usually used figuratively or in reference to feelings, while rouse more commonly refers to physical action and things that inspire action. Also, arouse is more often used in relation to sex, and rouse more often relates to coming out of sleep. These are not rules, however, and we could find many exceptions. For example, rousing is often used to describe works of art that induce strong enthusiasm, … [Read more...]

Blather vs. blither

The verb blither is a variant of blather, meaning to talk nonsensically. Aside from the a/i distinction, the words are the same except for slight connotative differences. Both usually appear in their present-participial forms, blathering and blithering. Blather is preferred by a wide margin in all varieties of English, although blithering is more often used in the phrase blithering idiot. Both words are pejorative, but blithering is harsher (because it's usually followed by the obviously … [Read more...]

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