Peak vs. peek vs. pique

A peak is (1) a maximum, (2) to achieve a maximum, and (3) to bring to a maximum. Its homophone pique, which appears mostly in the phrase pique [one's] interest, means (1) to provoke or arouse, or (2) to provoke resentment or indignation. It also works as a noun referring to a feeling of resentment or indignation resulting from wounded pride. A third homophone, peek, means (1) to glance quickly, (2) to look furtively, or (3) a quick or furtive look. Examples It peaked with Della famously … [Read more...]

Condemn vs. condone

To condemn is to express strong disapproval. To condone is to overlook or forgive. Although the two words are antonyms, they are easily mixed up because of their similarity in sound and their frequent association with each other. Condemnation is condemn's corresponding noun. The best we have for condone is the participial noun condoning. Examples Condemn The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms. [Hamilton Spectator] Asked whether Congress … [Read more...]

E-mail vs. email

A few editorially conservative publications still prefer e-mail to email, but most of the English-speaking world has adopted the unhyphenated form. In a Google News search covering 2011 and the start of 2012, there are approximately six instances of email for every e-mail, a dramatic shift from a couple of years ago. And the unhyphenated form is even more common outside newswriting. Examples In non-U.S. English publications, email already beats e-mail by a wide margin. For example, email is … [Read more...]

Quantitative vs. quantitive

Quantitive and quantitative are different forms of the same word. Quantitative is the more common form, however, and it is the one preferred in edited writing. It is also older. Quantitive has gained a little ground this century, but it remains nothing more than a relatively rare variant. … [Read more...]

Pajamas vs. pyjamas

Pajamas and pyjamas both refer to loose-fitting clothes worn for sleep. Pajamas is the preferred spelling in American English, while pyjamas is preferred in the main varieties of English from outside North America. Canadian usage in this century is inconsistent, though pyjamas appears to have the edge. Examples Outside the U.S. Munshaw-Luhar says the shops also stock sherwani suits and kurta pyjamas for men and expensive wedding outfits. [Sydney Morning Herald] What I always do is to … [Read more...]


To be nonplussed is to be (1) at a loss of what to think, or (2) bewildered. These are the traditional definitions, anyway. The word comes from the old but now little-used noun nonplus, which refers to a state in which nothing more can be said or done, so to be nonplussed is essentially to be at a standstill or an impasse. Regardless of the traditional definitions, the word is very often used as a synonym of unimpressed, indifferent, or unfazed---for example: I was nonplussed by the curry … [Read more...]

Octopi vs. octopuses

Octopi, the supposed plural of octopus, is a favorite among fans of quirky words, but it has no etymological basis. The form was created by English speakers out of a mistaken belief that octopus is Latin and hence pluralized with an -i ending. But octopus comes from ancient Greek, where its plural is octopodes, and though it came to English via scientific Latin---one of the late varieties of Latin that kept the language alive long after it had died out as a first language---it was never a native … [Read more...]

Verses vs. versus

Verses is the plural of the noun verse (or the present participle of the rare verb sense of verse). Versus (abbreviated vs. or v.) is a preposition meaning against or in contrast to. Examples Snippets from Leviticus and other Bible verses form the foundation of their anti-gay platform. [Daily Mail] The Australian currency weakened for a second day versus the yen. [Sydney Morning Herald] For generations, schoolchildren from all over China have grown up learning verses that were inspired … [Read more...]

Inclement vs. inclimate

The weather-related adjective meaning stormy or tempestuous is inclement. It is the appropriate word in the phrase inclement weather, which means stormy weather. The word is often misspelled inclimate (which would also be pronounced a little differently), but this illogical form is not yet common enough to have received the recognition of dictionaries (at least the dozen or so we checked), and it is not found in edited writing. The prefix in- is one of several prefixes we attach to adjectives … [Read more...]

Qualitative, quantitative

Because the adjectives qualitative and quantitative are antonyms, they're often used in contrast with each other, and their close association and similarity in sound makes them easily confused. The distinction is simple: quantitative relates to numbers and amounts, while qualitative relates to nonnumeric characteristics and properties. Both qualitative and quantitative are preferred over their shorter alternatives, qualitive and quantitive. Examples Quantitative And this week, after a … [Read more...]

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