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And yet

When you find yourself using the phrase and yet, consider whether any meaning would be lost if and were dropped. When yet is used as a conjunction, and yet is redundant, and and could usually be cut. For example, and serves no purpose in this sentence: The numbers do offer a sobering picture, and yet it's far from all gloom and doom. And yet is commonly used to start sentences. In some cases, the usage comes from unfounded bias against using yet to start a sentence. And yet no one would bet … [Read more...]

Bridle vs. bridal

When we're talking about horses, harnesses, restraints, or horse trails (i.e., bridle trails), the word is bridle. Its origins are in the Old English word bregdan, meaning to braid.  When we're talking about a woman who is getting married (i.e., a bride), the word is bridal. This word comes from the Middle English noun bridale, meaning wedding.  Examples Some clues that horses might be having dental problems include loss of feed from the mouth, lugging on the bridle, head tilting or … [Read more...]

Chock-full

The word meaning full to the limit is chock-full. It is commonly misspelled chalk-full, probably due to the close similarity in sound between chock and chalk especially in American pronunciation. Chock-full's origins are mysterious, though there are many theories that we won't go into here. There is usually a hyphen between chock and full, though you'll often see the term with a space instead of a hyphen. Here are a few examples of chock-full used well: This Blu-ray is chock-full of extras, … [Read more...]

Their, them, themselves, they (as singular pronouns)

Many English speakers believe that using the plural pronouns they, them, themselves, and their in gender-neutral singular constructions is incorrect. For example, these people would consider the them in "call a friend and ask them to come over" to be wrong because them by definition refers to multiple people, whereas in this clause its antecedent (a friend) is singular. But there are problems with this view. The main one is that English needs singular gender-neutral pronouns. There is no way … [Read more...]

Trochee

A trochee is a metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable---for example, the words poet, barren, public, Denver, Clinton, Teasdale. English is iambic in its natural rhythms, but poets have used trochaic lines to great effect. For example, each of the first three lines of this stanza from William Blake's "Tyger" begin with three trochees: Tyger, tyger, burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful … [Read more...]

Foolproof vs. full-proof

The adjective foolproof means infallible or, more literally, impervious to the incompetence of fools. Just as a bulletproof vest makes one invulnerable to bullets, a foolproof plan is designed to be invulnerable to fools. Foolproof is usually one word, without a hyphen (though the hyphenated form, fool-proof, is not uncommon). The word is occasionally misspelled full-proof. There are arguments to be made in favor of this spelling (see the comments below for a couple of them), and of course … [Read more...]

Seldomly

Seldomly is an unnecessary variant of seldom. Seldom is already an adverb, so adding the adverbial -ly doesn't change its meaning. Using seldomly is not a serious error, however. Your spell check probably catches it, and most major dictionaries either don't list the word or list it as obsolete, yet to many English speakers, seldom without the -ly just doesn't feel right in certain situations (a similar effect is seen with thusly, an unnecessary variant of the adverb thus). If you are an English … [Read more...]

Alas

The interjection alas expresses grief or regret resulting from something described. It's essentially an archaic way of saying, "Oh no!" so it should always be associated with something negative. For modern writers, it is difficult to use alas without creating an ironic or pretentious tone, but the word is not as far gone as many similar archaisms, and it still appears somewhat often. Examples Alas works well in these sentences because it is followed by something the writer finds … [Read more...]

Thusly

Thusly is a superfluous word. Because thus is an adverb in its own right, the adverbial -ly adds nothing. This doesn't mean that thusly is wrong, however, and there are contexts in which many English-speakers find it simply sounds better than thus, especially where it introduces quotes or lists. Examples Thus could replace thusly in each of these sentences: Cliff thusly became the first pitcher since Deacon Phillippe to walk no one and strike out ten men in a complete game World Series … [Read more...]

Beckon call

The phrase at [one's] beckon call is an eggcorn derived from a mishearing of the at [one's] beck and call, which means freely available or ready to comply. The mistaken phrase is sort of understandable because someone who is at your beck and call is ready to be beckoned. Still, attentive readers are liable to see beckon call as wrong. Examples For example, a more careful editor could have saved these writers a little embarrassment: The cast is rounded out by Selznick's secretary Miss … [Read more...]

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