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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...]

-able and -ible

The suffixes -able and -ible both mean capable of or suitable for, but we treat them differently. The most important difference is that -able is a living suffix, meaning we can affix it to virtually any verb without using a hyphen, while -ible is not used to make new words. It lives on mainly in old words passed down through the centuries. As the living suffix, -able is useful for coining new words, though we often have to ignore spell check when it comes to -able coinages. For example, our … [Read more...]

Addiction vs. dependence

Traditionally, addiction referred to physical dependencies on drugs, alcohol, or other substances. Today, however, the term dependence is increasingly used for physical dependencies, while addiction is more often used for psychological dependencies. So habitual drug or alcohol use might be called dependence, while compulsive indulgence in an activity such as gambling, sex, or internet use might be termed an addiction. The terms are used interchangeably in many contexts, however, and their … [Read more...]

Favor vs. favour

Favor and favour are different spellings of the same word. Favor is the preferred spelling in American English. Favour is preferred in all other main varieties of English. These preferences extend to most derivatives, including favored/favoured, favoring/favouring, favorite/favourite, and favorable/favourable. The American adoption of favor was part of a broader early-19th-century effort to create a distinctly American English with spellings considered tidier or more logical. Favour was just … [Read more...]

African-American vs. black

The term African-American was advanced in the 1980s to give Americans of African descent an equivalent of German-American, Italian-American, and so on. The term peaked in popularity during the 1990s and 2000s, but today it is often perceived as carrying a self-conscious political correctness that is unnecessary in informal contexts. In informal speech and writing, black is often preferred and is rarely considered offensive. Colored, an old term for African American people, is now considered … [Read more...]

Plum vs. plumb

Plum is an adjective meaning desirable, and it also denotes the sweet, purplish fruit. The adjectival meaning originated as a figurative extension of the fruit. Plumb is a verb meaning (1) to determine the depth of, to probe, or (2) to work as a plumber; an adjective/adverb meaning (3) exactly vertical, (4) utterly, or (5) squarely; and a noun referring to (6) a weight on the end of a line, used to determine water depth. Examples Plum Urban Meyer is joining ESPN as an analyst less than two … [Read more...]

Afterward vs. afterword

Afterward is an adverb meaning (1) at a later time, or (2) subsequently. Afterword is a synonym of epilogue---that is, a short addition or concluding section at the end of a literary work. Examples CC Sabathia threw about 30 pitches of live batting practice this morning and reported afterward that all went well ... [LoHud Yankees Blog] Each book's photos are accompanied by text from the subjects, with Elton John providing an intro and Kylie Minogue an afterword to the Shears book. [Dallas … [Read more...]

Tire vs. tyre

Tire and tyre both mean a covering for a wheel, usually made of rubber. Tire is the preferred spelling in the U.S. and Canada. Tyre is preferred in most varieties of English outside North America. Of course, all English speakers use tire in the sense to grow weary. Examples Outside North America Advanced systems to monitor fuel and tyre usage give the company a clear picture of how its fleet is performing. [Guardian] Less than half a kilometre in, Keneally gets a flat tyre. [Sydney Morning … [Read more...]

Amiable vs. amicable

Amiable means good-natured and likable. It describes people. Amicable means characterized by goodwill. It describes relationships or interactions between people. So, for instance, two amiable people might share an amicable friendship, or two amiable people might end their relationship amicably. Both amiable and amicable derive ultimately from the Latin amicabilis, meaning friendly. Amiable came to English from French in the 14th century and originally bore the sense now associated with … [Read more...]

Plenitude vs. plentitude

The noun referring to (1) an ample amount or quantity or (2) the condition of being full or ample is plenitude, with only one t. The misspelling plentitude is so common that it's been accepted by many dictionaries as a variant spelling. But the root of plenitude---and of plenty---is plenus (meaning full), without a t. Examples Both forms are common in publications that tend to reflect popular usage---for example: This seems too harsh, yet one aspect of the Spurs experience which Arsène … [Read more...]

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