Economic vs. economical

Economic means, primarily, of or relating to the economy or economics. Economical means prudent, efficient, or thrifty. The adjectives were once variants of each other---and some dictionaries still list them this as such---but the differentiation is well established and generally borne out in real-world usage. Examples Many private sector forecasters are expecting Japanese economic growth to return to positive territory in the third quarter. [Wall Street Journal] Through six economical … [Read more...]

In the course of

In the course of is wordy for during, in, over, or while. There are rare instances in which in the course of is appropriate (especially when course is meaningful or denotes an actual route or path), but in most cases the phrase could be shortened to a one-word equivalent. Examples In each of the following sentences, in the course of could be shortened with no loss of meaning: But tension returned quickly, and in the course of [during?] their argument, Rick called her out. [Atlantic] More … [Read more...]

Overtones vs. undertones

The nouns overtone and undertone---usually pluralized, overtones and undertones---should logically be opposites, but they are effectively synonyms when used to mean an underlying or implied quality or meaning. The words are often used interchangeably. Overtone has a music-related definition---a musical tone that is higher than the fundamental tone---that it does not share with undertone. And undertone has a definition---a hushed tone or sound---that it does not share with overtone. But when … [Read more...]

Practicable vs. practical

Something that is practical is (1) of or relating to practice, (2) capable of being put to good use, (3) concerned with ordinary, tangible things, and (4) being such for all useful purposes. Practicable is more narrowly defined. It means capable of being put into practice. Confusion occurs between practical's second definition and the main definition of practicable. Think of practical as a synonym of useful, and practicable as a synonym of doable and feasible. Another important distinction … [Read more...]

Easily confused words

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American English vs. British English

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Unique, meaning being the only one of its kind, is the quintessential uncomparable adjective. Because a thing either is or isn't the only one of its kind, to say something is quite unique, somewhat unique, or more or less unique than something else is illogical. For example, these writers use unique where interesting, curious, or unusual might make more sense: Naima Adedapo was certainly one of the more unique and original artists on the stage on this season's "American Idol". [Wall Street … [Read more...]

Prostate vs. prostrate

Prostrate is an adjective meaning lying face down, and a verb (usually reflexive) meaning to put or throw face down. Prostate is a noun denoting a gland in male mammals that controls the release of urine and creates a milky fluid that constitutes a large percentage of the volume of semen. Examples The Fiver's never been one to prostrate itself before the altar of the Big Buck and acquiesce to the wishes of sponsors. [Guardian] The Da Vinci surgical robot made by Intuitive Surgical is … [Read more...]


The irregular verb spread is unchanged in the past tense (e.g., "she spread the butter") and as a past participle (e.g., "the butter is spread). Spreaded appears occasionally in informal contexts, but it is not a standard form, and most dictionaries don't recognize it (for what that's worth). The Oxford English Dictionary does record a few historical instances of the word---one from the 16th century and two from John Keats's 1818 poem Endymion---but it has never been widely used. It is more … [Read more...]

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