Than vs. then

Then is mainly an adverb, often used to situate actions in time. For example, you wake up in the morning and then have breakfast. It's also used in if ... then constructions such as, "If you wake late, then you might have to skip breakfast." It also works as a noun meaning that time (e.g., "I wanted breakfast, but then was not a good time") and as an adjective meaning at that time (e.g., "My then boyfriend was not an early riser").Than is a conjunction used mainly in making … [Read more...]

Assume vs. presume

Assume and presume both mean to take something for granted as true (among their many other definitions). The difference is in the degree of certainty. A presumption is usually more authoritative than an assumption. To presume is to make an informed guess based on reasonable evidence, while to assume is to make a guess based on little or no evidence. Examples In this example, presume is the better word choice because the speaker's guess is based on irrefutable evidence: I told the host, whom I … [Read more...]

Breath vs. breathe

Breath is a noun. Breathe is a verb. When you breathe, you inhale and exhale breath. The simplicity of this distinction doesn't prevent the occasional mixup---for example: So imagine my surprise when the view from the east side of the Eaglecrest area on a recent snowshoe walk took my breathe away. [Juneau Empire]Again, the Horseshoe Kingdom appeared to breath a little easier. [Indianapolis Business Journal] These writers use the words correctly: Under normal circumstances I wouldn't waste … [Read more...]

Breath vs. breadth (vs. width)

Breath is the air you breathe in and out your lungs. That one is easy. Breadth is a synonym of width (hence the expression hair's breadth, meaning a very short width), but there are two subtle distinctions breadth and width.First, whereas width is used for the side-to-side extent of things of all sizes, breadth is generally reserved for things whose spans are especially large. For instance, rooms and streets are often described in terms of width, while hurricanes and large geographical … [Read more...]

Percent vs. per cent

The one-word percent is standard in American English. Percent is not absent from other varieties of English, but most publications still prefer the two-word per cent. The older forms per-cent, per cent. (per cent followed by a period), and the original per centum have mostly disappeared from the language (although the latter sometimes appears in legal writing).There is no difference between percent and per cent. Choosing between them is simply a matter of preference. Examples U.S. The … [Read more...]

Pore over vs. pour over

The phrase meaning to study carefully is pore over. It comes from a little-used sense of the verb pore---namely, to meditate deeply. In modern writing, this sense of pore rarely appears outside this phrase.Pour over is of course a meaningful phrase in its own right, but it has nothing to do with studying. It's what you do, for example, with milk to a bowl of cereal. Examples Major employers are using specialist anti-union lawyers to pore over the legislation. []Young men pore … [Read more...]

Incipient vs. insipient (vs. insipid)

Something that is incipient means beginning to exist or just starting to happen. Insipient is an archaism meaning wanting wisdom, stupid, or foolish. It is almost nowhere to be found in 21st-century English, except as an occasional misspelling of incipient.Although insipid (from the Latin in- and sapidus, meaning not savory) is sometimes used to mean simply bad, it traditionally means (1) lacking flavor or zest, (2) lacking exciting qualities, or (3) dull. Examples Incipient In a related … [Read more...]


The use of said as an adjective meaning aforementioned comes from legal and business writing, and it's essentially a briefer replacement of words like aforementioned and aforesaid. Although replacing a long word with a short one is usually a good thing, in this case the shorter word can sound funny to people who are not used to legal and business writing. Plus, said when used this way would often bear outright removal.In these examples, said serves no purpose and could be removed: The said … [Read more...]

Saccharin vs. saccharine

Saccharin, with no e, refers to a white crystal powder used as a calorie-free sweetener. It is always a noun. Saccharine, meaning (1) sweet, (2) cloyingly sweet, or (3) excessively sentimental, is always an adjective. The words are pronounced alike, but that e is pivotal in writing. Examples Saccarin He offered the example of saccharin, a sweetener often used in coffee that until recently also appeared on the federal list of substances regarded as toxic waste. [NY Times]EPA removed … [Read more...]

Rock ‘n’ roll, rock and roll, rock’n’roll, etc.

Rock 'n' roll is the most common spelling for the genre of music, but rock-and-roll, rock and roll, rock-'n'- roll, rock & roll, and rock'n'roll also appear often. Rock 'n' roll has a breezy and colloquial look that reflects the spirit of the music, while rock-and-roll and rock and roll are a little more formal. In any case, there is no right or wrong way to write the term, though rock 'n' roll is the most common version and hence the safest. Examples Rock 'n' roll Today marks the 52nd … [Read more...]

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