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Melted vs. molten

Melted is the past tense and past participle of the verb to melt. For example, we say something melted yesterday, that something has melted in the sun, and that the thing that was left in the sun is melted. Molten is another participial adjective derived from melt, but in today's English it is used primarily in reference to melted metals and minerals. And even in reference to these things, melted is often used as the past tense. For example, we might write the molten copper melted … [Read more...]

Aeroplane vs. airplane

Aeroplane and airplane are different forms of the same word. Airplane is preferred in American and Canadian English, while aeroplane is traditionally preferred in non-North American varieties of English. But airplane has been steadily gaining ground in British publications, and it may someday become standard. Meanwhile, aeroplane is almost completely absent from American and Canadian publications, and to North Americans it may have an old-fashioned ring. Examples For example, these British and … [Read more...]

Regime vs. regimen

A regimen is a systematic approach to diet, medicine, or exercise. The word has other meanings, but this is its most common use. Regime can carry the same meaning, but it has additional definitions---mainly, (1) a form of government, and (2) a government in power---that it doesn't share with regimen. Keeping the words separate might be a good idea for clarity's sake, but in practice they are both commonly used in reference to systematic approaches to things. British writers are more likely … [Read more...]

Ambiance vs. ambience

Ambience and ambiance are different spellings of the same word, referring to the special atmosphere or mood of a particular environment. While some dictionaries list ambiance as the standard spelling, ambience is far more common in all main 21st-century varieties of English. It's worth noting, though, that ambiance tends to take precedence in contexts relating to art and design, but this is by no means a rule, and exceptions abound. Ambiance is the French word from which the English one … [Read more...]

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...]

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