Forbidding vs. foreboding

The adjective foreboding, meaning presaging something, connotes a sense of imminent danger. When something is foreboding, one gets the sense that something bad is going to happen. Although the participle works as an adjective, the word is more often used as a noun referring to a sense of imminent danger. For example, one might feel foreboding on hearing a rumble of distant thunder. Forbidding means hostile, unfriendly, or tending to impede progress. Things that are forbidding may cause fear, … [Read more...]

Omelet vs. omelette

For the breakfast dish consisting of eggs that have been beaten, cooked until set, and folded over, American publications prefer omelet, and this is the spelling recommended by most American English reference sources. In all other main varieties of English, the French spelling, omelette, is preferred. These are the preferences shown in 21st-century edited writing, anyway. There's no rule saying Americans can't prefer the French spelling or that British writers can't prefer the American one, … [Read more...]

Do apologize

Do apologize is a bureaucratic-sounding phrase best avoided in any genuine apology. The insertion of the helper word do ahead of apologize distances the speaker from the apology and hence the offending action, and this may only further infuriate the apology's recipient. The effect is subtle, but consider how much more convincing these apologies would sound if do were removed: "I do apologize very sincerely for the mistakes I have made," he said. [Louisville Courier-Journal (link now … [Read more...]


Avail has three meanings: (1) to make use of; (2) to be of use; and (3) benefit or advantage. In the first sense, avail is always a reflexive verb, followed by a reflexive pronoun such as myself, oneself, or herself, with the pronoun referring to the person or thing performing the action---for example: Residents visiting the library could avail themselves of the park district's facilities and programs. [Chicago Sun-Times] Cooper's is not technically a defamation suit, although it does avail … [Read more...]

Realise vs. realize

Realise and realize are different spellings of the same word, and both are used to varying degrees throughout the English-speaking world. Realize is the preferred spelling in American and Canadian English, and realise is preferred outside North America. The spelling distinction extends to all derivatives of the verb, including realised/realized, realising/realizing, and realisation/realization. Although realize is now regarded by many in the U.K. and Australasia as the American spelling, it … [Read more...]


The virgule punctuation mark, sometimes called a slash or a forward slash, has a few standard uses in English, plus many other common uses that aren't considered standard by English grammar authorities.  The established uses of virgules include the following: They're used in web addresses and file paths (e.g.,, c:/Program Files/Google Chrome/Chrome.exe). They separate lines of poetry quoted without line breaks (e.g., Glory be to God for dappled things / For skies … [Read more...]


The semicolon ( ; ) has three main uses in modern English. 1.  A semicolon separates two closely related or similarly constructed independent clauses---for example: Those drinking more than six cups of coffee a day were at 40 percent lower risk for diabetes than nondrinkers; the figure for those who drank less than a cup per day was just 4 percent. [New York Times] Without the document of 1787, there would have been no United States; with it, the conflict over slavery as the nation … [Read more...]

Quotation marks

In English, there are two main styles of quotation marks (which are also called inverted commas and quotes). American writers routinely use double quotation marks, "which are pictured to the left and look like the marks around this clause." Writers in the U.K., Australia, etc. may use either single or double quotation marks, with the former typical of academic publications especially and the latter commonly found in online media. The single quotes 'look like the marks around this phrase.' Uses … [Read more...]

Luxuriant vs. luxurious

Luxurious means (1) marked by luxury or (2) characteristic of luxury. Luxuriant means (1) characterized by rich or profuse growth, (2) producing abundance, or (3) excessively florid or elaborate. So luxurious often has to do with monetary wealth, while luxuriant describes types of abundance that do not necessarily relate to monetary wealth. Examples Luxurious A cashier from the West Midlands who stole £1.7m from her employers, funding a luxurious lifestyle, has been ordered to repay some of … [Read more...]

Alligator vs. crocodile

Alligators are part of the crocodile order, so while all alligators are crocodiles, only some crocodiles are alligators. There are many types of crocodiles all over the world (and the order goes back 84 million years to the Cretaceous Period), but there are only two types of alligators---the American alligator of the U.S. south, and the Chinese alligator, which lives only along the Yangtze River. In addition to alligators, the crocodile order includes gharials, caimans, and several species … [Read more...]

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