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...]


The adverb currently is almost always unnecessary. It usually just restates information already conveyed through verb tenses and can be dropped with no loss of meaning. Consider these examples: A 31-year-old Pennsylvania man is currently in stable condition after leaping off a Manhattan-bound Staten Island Ferry yesterday evening. [Gothamist] The Denver Zoo is currently training three of its gorillas to be the newest members of the Great Ape Heart Project. [Denver Post] Sarah Palin, … [Read more...]

Obsolescent vs. obsolete

Things that are obsolete are out of date or no longer in general use. Things that are obsolescent are fading from general use and soon to become obsolete. For example, the Windows XP operating system (released in 2001) is not obsolete because some people still use it, but it is obsolescent because it will presumably be falling out of use in the coming years. Things that are obsolete are usually not so out of date that they've been forgotten, however. When obsolete things are forgotten, they … [Read more...]

Impassive vs. passive

The adjectives impassive and passive may seem like they should be opposites (im- sometimes being a negative prefix), but they are actually somewhat similar in meaning, especially when they describe people. Someone who is impassive lacks emotion or doesn't show emotion. Someone who is passive is inactive, submissive, or nonresponsive. Impassiveness is a lack of emotion, whereas passivity is a lack of responsive action. More generally, passive means (1) receiving an action without acting in … [Read more...]

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