Ravaging vs. ravishing

To ravage is to bring heavy destruction, to devastate, or to pillage. The meaning of ravaging is straightforward, as it descends literally from this main sense of ravage. Ravishing is trickier. Ravish has two main meanings: (1) to abduct and rape, and (2) to enrapture. Ravishing extends from the positive second sense---it means, essentially, very attractive---and is generally not associated with the negative first sense, so it is unfit as a synonym of rape. Meanwhile, the form is best … [Read more...]

Amuse vs. bemuse

Something that is amusing is entertaining or funny. Bemusing has an almost opposite meaning. Bemuse means (1) to cause to be bewildered or to confuse, and (2) to cause to be engrossed in thought. Neither of these effects are funny or entertaining. Examples The technology-driven world in which we live today would bemuse even our most recent ancestors. [Wesleyan Argus] West Brom manager Roberto di Matteo said he was bemused by the referee's decision not to award his side a penalty. [BBC … [Read more...]

Bald-faced vs. boldface

If you need a word meaning shameless, brazen, or obvious, use the phrasal adjective bald-faced (and don't forget the hyphen). Of course, this adjective can also be used to describe an unadorned and shaven face. The adjective boldface (not boldfaced) refers to text that looks like this. It has no other uses. Examples FOX News is no stranger to telling bald-faced lies. [Aiken Area Progressive] While "Untouchable" will not change the course of cinema, it is a story that spells "cautionary" in … [Read more...]

Shaved vs. shaven

Shaved is the past tense verb to shave, and it's sometimes used as a past participle. Shaven is only used as a past participle. In other words, shaved is either a verb or an adjective, and shaven is an adjective. So English speakers are more likely to say "I have shaved" than "I have shaven." But "his face is shaven" and "his face is shaved" both work. Shave is one of a few irregular English verbs whose traditional participle forms no longer function as verbs. Others include melt … [Read more...]

Bare vs. bear

As an adjective, bare means lacking clothing, naked, exposed to view, or lacking adornment. As a verb, it means to make bare, to uncover, or to expose. Its past tense is bared. Bear has no adjectival definition. When not referring to the large mammal, it is a verb with a variety of meanings, none of which relate to uncovering or exposing. A few of its meanings are to hold, to support, to exhibit, to carry oneself in a specified way, to endure, to give birth to, and to yield (especially … [Read more...]

Each other vs. one another

Some English usage authorities urge the use of each other when referring to two people and one another for more than two people. Yet there's no logical reason for this guideline, and writers break it nearly as often as they follow it. In practice, the two phrases are interchangeable. Here are a few examples from edited publications: The technology will without doubt change forever how we communicate with each other. [NY Times] Skirls of grunge guitars, air-horn blasts, reggaeton beats and … [Read more...]


The slangy verb welsh, meaning (1) to go back on a promise, or (2) to shirk one's responsibilities (often with regard to gambling or debt), might be considered offensive to people from Wales. The origins of the word are unknown, but it's no stretch to speculate that welsh could have begun as a derogatory term derived from a habit perceived to be common among Welsh people. In any case, it might be best to use the word cautiously, if at all. Examples AIG did not welsh or even have the chance to … [Read more...]

Ex post facto

In Latin, ex post facto literally means from that which is done afterward. In English, we use it to mean after the fact. It's primarily a legal term, and it can sound out of place in informal contexts, where after the fact or synonyms such as retroactive work just as well. Ex post facto is usually used as an adjective, but it also works as an adverb. Here are a few examples of the phrase in action in legal contexts: The Swiss Supreme Court will intervene ex post facto only on restrictive … [Read more...]

Attain vs. obtain

Attain means (1) to achieve, (2) to accomplish, or (3)  to reach the age of. Obtain means to get. There is sometimes common ground between these verbs, especially when somebody obtains something that is closely related to something that is often attained. For example, nuclear technology is something to be attained, while an actual nuclear weapon can only be obtained. Examples In fact, we have been able to attain a commendable level of economic success despite failing urban infrastructure and … [Read more...]

Carrot, carat, karat, caret

Karat applies to gold (as a measure of fineness), and carat applies to precious stones (as a unit of weight, equaling 200 milligrams). A carrot is an orange vegetable. A caret is a proofreading symbol (^) used to indicated where something should be inserted. Some dictionaries list karat and carat as variants of each other, but that's just because the words have been confused so often for so long that there's almost no point in trying to keep them separate. Careful writers can keep them … [Read more...]

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