Fast is one of a category of adjectives that double as adverbs without requiring the -ly ending. Because fast works this way---and it does for all its main senses, including in a speedy manner and in a secure manner or tightly---the adjectival fastly is a superfluous word. The -ly adds nothing.There is some resistance to flat adverbs (that is, adverbs such as fast that take adjectival forms), and when using fast this way you might encounter people who claim the word should be changed … [Read more...]


According to dictionaries, the noun ilk does not necessarily have negative connotations. Derived from a Scottish term meaning the same, the word is synonymous with type and kind, and it's usually used in phrases like of that ilk or of his/her ilk. It refers to a person's associates or colleagues. Logically, there's nothing inherently disparaging about this sense of ilk. It's neutral.But in contemporary usage, ilk has become negative. This is perhaps due to ilk's similarity in sound to … [Read more...]

Sentence-ending prepositions

The "rule" that a preposition should not end a sentence goes back to the 18th century, when some grammarians believed English should bend to the rules of Latin grammar. But like the spurious prohibition against starting sentences with conjunctions, this rule goes against the glorious flexibility of English and often leads to unnatural-sounding sentences.Ending sentences with strong words is a good idea, but not when it means contorting the language away from natural expression. Winston … [Read more...]

Adaption vs. adaptation

Adaption and adaptation are different forms of the same word, and they share all their meanings, which include (1) the act of changing to suit new conditions, and (2) a work of art recast in a new form or medium. But the longer word, adaptation, is preferred by most publications and is much more common. Adaption is not completely absent, but it usually gives way to the longer form in edited writing. Both forms are old. The OED lists examples of adaption from as long ago as the early 17th … [Read more...]

A leg up

The idiom a leg up means (1) a boost or (2) a position of advantage.1 When you get a leg up on your competition, you're at least temporarily ahead of them in some significant way. The phrase comes from foot racing, where getting a leg up at the start of the race gives an edge. Examples These writers demonstrate how a leg up is conventionally used: And he might have a leg up on the rest of the contestants because of his shooting style. [ESPN]The so-called credit bidding gives a leg up to … [Read more...]

Previous vs. prior

The adjectives prior and previous are both useful synonyms of earlier and past, and there is no substantive difference between them. Some people do make various distinctions between them in their personal usage, but none of these distinctions are borne out in broader usage. The words are usually interchangeable. Examples Mayor Robert Dean Smith was arrested Wednesday on allegations he violated a probation from a previous drunken driving conviction. []The two have a prior … [Read more...]

Populace vs. populous

Populous, meaning having many inhabitants, is always an adjective. Populace is a noun referring to a population or the general public. So we might say, for example, that a populous city has a large populace.But while populace is roughly synonymous with population, the words' connotations differ slightly. Population is neutral, while populace often carries a superior tone toward the group it refers to. Examples Unfortunately, he's forgotten how to speak German, and the populace can't … [Read more...]

Amount vs. number

Amount is used in reference to mass nouns (i.e., uncountable nouns such as bravery, water, and charisma). Number is used in reference to count nouns (i.e., countable nouns such as dog, year, and eyeball).For example, because the noun person can be counted, the phrase amount of people might be considered incorrect. The distinction tends to weaken, however, when we're talking about great numbers. The amount of people in the room would sound wrong to many careful speakers of English, while the … [Read more...]

Their, there, they’re

Even professional writers occasionally mix up their, there, and they're in their absentminded moments. These errors can hurt a writer's credibility, however, so it's important to use these words cautiously. Their Their functions as an adjective. It is the possessive of they---for example: The neighbors watch their TV very loud.Cats get grouchy without their dinner.Most wives love their husbands. There There functions in several ways. It can be an adverb meaning at, in, or toward … [Read more...]

Color vs. colour

Color and colour are different spellings of the same word. Color is the preferred spelling in American English, and colour is preferred in all other main varieties of English. The distinction extends to all derivatives of the word. Colored, coloring, colorer, colorful, and discolor are the U.S. spellings, and coloured, colouring, colourer, colourful, and discolour are preferred outside the U.S. History Both spellings are many centuries old. Color, now regarded as the American spelling, in fact … [Read more...]

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