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Inter-, intra-

The prefix inter- means between or among. The prefix intra- means within. For example, an interstate highway is one that goes between or among states, while an intrastate highway is one that exists only within a single state. Intra- and inter- can be attached to any common noun without a hyphen---although, as the below examples show, many writers aren't comfortable doing so. Your spell check might catch your unhyphenated inter-/intra- coinages, but spell check would be wrong. … [Read more...]

Status quo

The Latin loan phrase status quo, meaning literally the state in which, is used in English to mean the existing condition or state of affairs. The phrase usually serves as a noun, but it can also function as a phrasal adjective preceding a noun. Status in quo is a longer, unnecessary variant of status quo, and status quo ante, mostly used in legal contexts, means the state of affairs at a previous time. Because status quo means current state of affairs, the phrase current status quo is … [Read more...]

Its vs. it’s

Its, without an apostrophe, is the possessive of the pronoun it. It's, with an apostrophe, is a contraction of it is or it has. If you're not sure which spelling to use, try replacing it with it is or it has. If neither of those phrases works in its place, then its is the word you're looking for. Most English speakers are comfortable with the difference between its and it's, yet even the most careful writers mix them up in careless moments. Such errors are typos, not grammar mistakes (there … [Read more...]

Phrasal adjectives

A phrasal adjective (also known as an adjective phrase or compound adjective) is a phrase that modifies a noun. Phrasal adjective hyphenation When a phrasal adjective precedes a noun, it usually takes a hyphen or, for phrases of three or more words, hyphens. This makes things easier for your reader and helps prevent miscues---for example: razor-sharp wit over-the-top characters larger-than-life personality The same phrases are unhyphenated when they come after what they modify---for … [Read more...]

Italics (when to italicize)

There are different schools of thought on when to use italics, but most style guides agree on a few points: It's okay to occasionally use italics for emphasis, but avoid doing it too much. Instead, use sentence construction to emphasize important words. Italicize foreign words or phrases that are unlikely to be familiar to most of your readers. But loanwords and loan phrases that are well established in English don't need to be italicized. Italicize words presented as words (e.g., the … [Read more...]

Ad hominem (usage)

The Latin loan phrase ad hominem, meaning, literally, to the person, is short for argumentatum ad hominem, a logical fallacy in which one ignores the merits of an opponent's argument and instead attacks the opponent's personality or character. Ad hominem would usually bear replacement with the English personal, but the phrase comes in handy in contexts relating to argumentation. Because ad hominem has been in the language a long time, there's no need to italicize it. And like other … [Read more...]

Per diem

The Latin loan phrase per diem, literally meaning per day, is used in English to mean by the day, per day, reckoned on a daily basis, or paid by the day. It also works as a noun referring to a daily allowance, usually given by an employer or client, for expenses. In normal use, per diem does not need to be italicized. Some writers hyphenate the phrase when it's a phrasal adjective preceding a noun (e.g., on a per-diem basis), but in English we usually leave that phrasal-adjective hyphen out … [Read more...]

Envision vs. invision

Envision (which is different from envisage) is the standard spelling of the verb meaning to picture in the mind or imagine. Invision is an alternate spelling that is no longer in use. A 1913 Webster's unabridged dictionary lists a separate noun sense of invision: lack of vision or the power of seeing. But we can't find any examples of the word used this way. Examples The way they were struggling early on this season made it hard to envision the Bears going so far. [AP] Some envision the … [Read more...]

Mic vs. mike

Both mike and mic commonly appear as shortened forms of microphone, but mike is the accepted spelling in most dictionaries. Mic presents difficulties because it looks like it should be pronounced mick and because it produces the problematic participles miced and micing. Miked and miking work better. Of course, however the word is spelled, it is a verb mainly in the phrase mic/mike up, meaning to put a mic on someone or something. Examples Mike Properly uniformed, Cos took the mike to … [Read more...]

Somersault

Somersault is the standard spelling of the noun denoting the acrobatic stunt involving a complete revolution of the body with the knees bent. Alternative spellings such as summersault, somersalt, and summerset appear in some dictionaries and are not completely absent from published writing, and your spell check might not catch them, but somersault is by far the most common form and is most faithful to the word's French roots. … [Read more...]

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