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Commentator vs. commenter

A commenter is someone who makes isolated comments. These days, the word most often refers to people who post comments on blogs and news websites. A commentator is someone who provides commentary. The term usually applies to professionals in sports broadcasting or television news. Commentators don't just make one comment; commenting is what they do. The difference between these words corresponds to the difference between a comment and commentary. A comment is an isolated remark, while a … [Read more...]

Ad nauseam

In modern English, the Latin loanword ad nauseam---originally meaning, literally, to sickness---is an adverb meaning to a disgusting or ridiculous degree. It usually applies to an action being repeated so many times that one gets literally or figuratively sick of it. Be careful not to spell it ad nauseum. Because ad nauseam has been in English a long time, there's no need to italicize it in normal use. Examples The phrase ad nauseam is misspelled almost as often as it's spelled correctly. … [Read more...]

Leaped vs. leapt

Both leaped and leapt are past-tense and past-participial forms of the verb leap. Other than the spelling and pronunciation, there is no difference between them. Both are old, and leaped was more common in all varieties of English until about a century ago, when leapt became more common in British English. Today, both forms are frequently used in American and Canadian publications, while publications from outside North America tend to favor leapt. This ngram, which graphs the occurrence … [Read more...]

Very

Very is an overused word. Whenever you're tempted to use it, try dropping it to see if any meaning is lost. There's a good chance your sentence will actually benefit from its removal. There are exceptions, however, especially when very provides meaningful emphasis. Examples For example, consider whether these sentences really need the intensifier very: Perhaps you haven't noticed, but over the years the Georgia General Assembly has provided us a vast array of very entertaining and sometimes … [Read more...]

Wanton vs. wonton

Wanton is an adjective meaning immoral or unchaste, merciless, unrestrainedly excessive, or undisciplined. The word also has rarer verb and noun senses---basically, to be wanton and one who is wanton. A wonton is a noodle-dough dumpling filled with pork or other meat and boiled in soup or fried. It's a delicious Chinese side dish. The two are homophones at least in some varieties of English, which makes their occasional confusion inevitable. Examples Wonton I couldn't find wonton wrappers so … [Read more...]

Postpositive adjectives

Postpositive adjectives are adjectives that follow the nouns they modify. Such constructions evince the influence that Romance languages, especially French, have had and still have on English. French, Spanish, and Italian all use postpositive adjectives as a rule. In general, postpositive adjectives sound unnatural in English, but there are a few set phrases that conventionally comprise modifiers following nouns---for example: accounts payable attorney general body politic court … [Read more...]

-able and -ible

The suffixes -able and -ible both mean capable of or suitable for, but we treat them differently. The most important difference is that -able is a living suffix, meaning we can affix it to virtually any verb without using a hyphen, while -ible is not used to make new words. It lives on mainly in old words passed down through the centuries. As the living suffix, -able is useful for coining new words, though we often have to ignore spell check when it comes to -able coinages. For example, our … [Read more...]

Addiction vs. dependence

Traditionally, addiction referred to physical dependencies on drugs, alcohol, or other substances. Today, however, the term dependence is increasingly used for physical dependencies, while addiction is more often used for psychological dependencies. So habitual drug or alcohol use might be called dependence, while compulsive indulgence in an activity such as gambling, sex, or internet use might be termed an addiction. The terms are used interchangeably in many contexts, however, and their … [Read more...]

Favor vs. favour

Favor and favour are different spellings of the same word. Favor is the preferred spelling in American English. Favour is preferred in all other main varieties of English. These preferences extend to most derivatives, including favored/favoured, favoring/favouring, favorite/favourite, and favorable/favourable. The American adoption of favor was part of a broader early-19th-century effort to create a distinctly American English with spellings considered tidier or more logical. Favour was just … [Read more...]

African-American vs. black

The term African-American was advanced in the 1980s to give Americans of African descent an equivalent of German-American, Italian-American, and so on. The term peaked in popularity during the 1990s and 2000s, but today it is often perceived as carrying a self-conscious political correctness that is unnecessary in informal contexts. In informal speech and writing, black is often preferred and is rarely considered offensive. Colored, an old term for African American people, is now considered … [Read more...]

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