Firstly, secondly, thirdly, etc.

Because ordinal numbers (i.e., first, second, third, fourth, etc.) function as both adjectives and adverbs, the -ly adverbs firstly, secondly, thirdly, fourthly, and so on are superfluous. But despite the longstanding superstition against using them, these words are common in all types of writing, and there's no need to avoid them. Where they become troublesome, however, is when the numbers get above fourthly or fifthly (seventhly? eleventhly? sixteenthly?). In the first place, in the second … [Read more...]


To halve something is (1) to divide it into two equal portions or parts, or (2) to lessen or reduce it by half. Halve is only a verb, though the corresponding noun, half, is pluralized with a v: halves.  Examples Halve as a verb But people familiar with the plan say that one hallmark is a proposal to roughly halve the number of board members from the current 27. [Wall Street Journal] The Pakistani government has caved in to public anger and a coalition party ultimatum by halving a fuel … [Read more...]

Premier vs. premiere

Premiere, with an e at the end, refers to the first public performance or showing of something, such as a movie or play. It can be a noun or a verb---for example, a movie premieres at its premiere. Premier, without the e, is (1) an adjective meaning first in status, and (2) a noun denoting a prime minister. Both words have origins in the French adjective premier, meaning first in a sequence or first in quality. Premier came to English much earlier, however. Examples of its use can be found … [Read more...]

Advert vs. avert

Advert is (1) a verb meaning refer or call attention (usually followed by to), and (2) an abbreviation of advertisement. The first is used almost exclusively in legal contexts, and the second is used mainly in British English. Avert is a verb meaning (1) to turn away, and (2) to ward off. The two are often confused, especially in American English. Examples The verb advert is most often used in legal writing, and it's usually followed by to---for example: At a sentencing hearing held on … [Read more...]

Mayonnaise vs. mayonaise

Mayonnaise is the standard spelling of the word referring to the condiment made of egg yolk, oil, and lemon juice or vinegar, and this has been so for over a century. Mayonaise, mayonnaisse, mayonaisse, and mahonnaise (the French spelling) are all somewhat common, but none rivals mayonnaise. … [Read more...]


Y'all, which originates in the U.S. and is common in many regions of the country, is a contraction of you and all. Although the word is generally considered out of place in formal writing, writers from regions that use the contraction sometimes use it in writing to affect a folksy or very informal tone. It also tends to appear in quoted speech and interviews. Although y'all is considered informal, it is not a substandard word, nor is it a sign of illiteracy or poor education. In some parts of … [Read more...]

Perquisite vs. prerequisite (vs. requisite)

A perquisite is a payment or profit given in addition to regular wages or salary. The word is easy to remember because it is the source of the word perk. A prerequisite is something that is required as a prior condition. Perquisite is always a noun, while prerequisite can be an adjective meaning required as a prior condition. Prerequisite vs. requisite Prerequisite is often used were requisite would make more sense. Requisite is a synonym of requirement, whereas a prerequisite is … [Read more...]

Aborted vs. abortive

As an adjective, aborted means terminated before completion. Abortive is an adjective meaning (1) failing to cause an intended objective, or (2) causing the termination of a pregnancy. So while abortive and the adjectival aborted share some common ground, there is a subtle distinction: Aborted implies intentional termination, while abortive, in its first sense, implies failure despite earnest effort. In the second sense of abortive, the termination may be either intentional or … [Read more...]


Iterate is a verb meaning to say, do, or perform again. Iteration is a noun referring to an act or instance of iterating. It is synonymous with repetition, but iterations usually work toward a perfect form of something. In these sentences, for instance, iteration implies repetition: The annual event, now in its 135th iteration, includes more than 2,500 animals across 179 breeds. [Salon] The company will also launch the fifth iteration of its popular iPhone as rivals from Motorola Mobility to … [Read more...]

Mantel vs. mantle

Mantle is primarily a noun referring to (1) a loose, sleeveless coat or cloak, (2) something that covers, (3) the layer of the Earth between the crust and the core, and (4) the cerebral cortex. It also has a rarely used verb definition---to cover as with a mantle. Mantel is easy; it refers to the ornamental shelf above a fireplace. It has no other definitions in today's English. Mantle is the correct spelling in the various forms of the phrases under the mantle and take/pick up/put on the … [Read more...]

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