Meter vs. metre

For the unit of measurement equaling approximately 1.094 yards, meter is the American spelling, and metre is preferred everywhere else. The same distinction applies to the terms used in poetry and music---meter in American English, and metre everywhere else. Here's the tricky part: For any type of device (i.e., an actual machine or gadget) designed to measure time, distance, speed, or intensity or to regulate current, meter is the preferred spelling everywhere. Examples For example, these … [Read more...]

Subjunctive mood

In English, the subjunctive mood is used to explore conditional or imaginary situations. It can be tricky to use, which partially explains why many speakers and writers forgo it. But it's quite useful (and aesthetically pleasing, at least to us), and careful users of English should do their part to preserve it. Uses of the subjunctive mood The subjunctive mood is used to explore conditions that are contrary to fact: If I were President, I wouldn't put up with it. [National Review] It's … [Read more...]

Suffice it to say

Suffice it to say, meaning (1) let us just say or (2) I shall just say, is the subjunctive form of the phrase it suffices to say. It may be affixed to the beginning of any declarative sentence or clause, and it works wherever let us just say would work. It does not need to be set apart with a comma. One might follow suffice it to say with that, but the that is often unnecessary. Examples Suffice it to say that "veggie meat crumbs," "soy butter," and the abominable phrase "vegan mayo" are … [Read more...]

Mowed vs. mown

Mowed is the past tense of the verb mow. For example, if you cut the grass yesterday, you might say, "I mowed the lawn yesterday." Mown is often used as mow's past-participial adjective. So one might say, "The freshly mown grass looks nice." But mowed is also sometimes used for this purpose. Neither is right or wrong. Examples In a businesslike manner they have mowed through the schedule, losing just four times in 35 games from the end of November through Wednesday night. [CBC] The vehicle … [Read more...]

Incubus, succubus

An incubus is a male evil spirit that has sex with sleeping women. A succubus is a female evil spirit that has sex with sleeping men. Both mythological figures have origins in antiquity, and the words themselves come from Latin. Each word has a pair of accepted plurals---incubuses and incubi for incubus, and succubuses and succubi for succubus. English reference books are inconsistent in their recommendations. But because we are using the words in English, the English plurals are fine, even … [Read more...]

A lot vs. alot

Though common in informal communication, alot has never made its way into edited writing, and it's generally considered a misspelling. In any type of serious writing, the two word spelling, a lot, is the safer choice. Even correctly spelled, however, the imprecise term has a colloquial ring, and it might sound out of place in, say, a school paper or an email to a client.   A lot is like any two-word phrase with the indefinite article (a) followed by a noun (lot). For instance, a cow, a cloud, … [Read more...]


The word American, as both an adjective and a demonym, can be tricky. The word technically should apply to people and things both North and South American, but in practical usage it has come to refer mostly to people and things from the U.S. American as a demonym The United States has been accused of appropriating the term American out of conceitedness, but the issue is not so simple. Most countries in North and South America have obvious demonyms---for example, Canadian, Mexican, Honduran, … [Read more...]

Borne vs. born

Borne is the past tense and past participle of bear in all senses not related to birth. So it's the appropriate word where bear means to carry---making it the correct spelling in the phrasal verb borne out (e.g., "his prediction was not borne out in reality") and in phrasal adjectives such as food-borne, mosquito-borne, and water-borne. It also works where bear means to produce or to bring about, which means it's the correct spelling in the phrase borne fruit (e.g., "our plan has borne … [Read more...]

Preventative vs. preventive

Preventive is the original adjective corresponding to prevent, but preventative has gained ground and is now a common variant. The two share all their definitions. As of early 2013, preventive is about three times as common as preventative in general web searches. And as the ngram below suggests, preventive has been far more common in published books for the last two centuries at least: The prevalence of the shorter form is seen throughout the English-speaking world, but the longer … [Read more...]

In the process of

In the process of is wordy for currently, which itself is almost always unnecessary. In most cases, the phrase could simply be removed with no loss of meaning. This might be hard to believe, but consider the examples below. Each sentence would mean exactly the same if in the process of were removed: Delaware County Sheriff deputies discovered the lab Thursday after receiving a tip that someone was in the process of cooking meth. [News on 6] The coal portion of TransAlta's plant is in the … [Read more...]

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