Used to

The idiomatic phrase used to (not use to) has two unrelated uses: (1) as an adjective meaning accustomed, and (2) an auxiliary verb meaning, roughly, did and implying that an action was habitual in the past and does not continue in the present. Examples In the context of used to, used is synonymous with accustomed---for example: The show's amazing costumers, who are used to doing things on the fly, make the necessary adjustments to our outfits while we do a music check. [People] But … [Read more...]

Definite articles

In English, the only definite article is the. It precedes singular and plural nouns and noun phrases. It's used in three main contexts. 1.  The precedes a noun or noun phrase that needs no further qualification---for example: The weather was horrible. The Senate is a mob of 100 wholly owned political subsidiaries. [USA Today] [S]omeone reported being bitten by a dog. The dog was quarantined. [The Umpqua Post] 2.  The precedes a thing that is about to be clarified. Here are three … [Read more...]

Title capitalization

According to most English style guides, titles of books, publications, and works of art should always be capitalized---for example, What to Expect When You're Expecting, The New York Times, There Will Be Blood. Use up-style capitalization in these cases; that is, capitalize the first letter of the first and last words and of all words besides short (fewer than five or so letters) articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. Short verbs, nouns, and adjectives are capitalized; for example, in There … [Read more...]


The word wont, not to be confused with want or the contraction won't, has several meanings, but it is most often an adjective, usually followed by to, meaning accustomed, given, or likely---for example: "Stats are for losers," as head coach John Fox is wont to say. [] It made me introspective, as talks with Kris are wont to do. [Chiron Training] Wont is also a noun, its definition being habit or accustomed behavior---for example: Kerry, as is his wont, offered a turbid … [Read more...]

Wreak havoc (and wreaked vs. wrought)

Havoc means widespread destruction. Wreak, a rare verb most common in British English, means to bring about. So to wreak havoc is to bring about widespread destruction. Havoc may reek, and it may cause a wreck, but reek havoc and wreck havoc are nonsensical phrases. The past tense of wreak is wreaked, so the past tense of wreak havoc is wreaked havoc. Forget the old, oft-repeated myth that the past tense of wreak is wrought. Wrought is an archaic past-tense form of work, and it serves as an … [Read more...]

Discrete vs. discreet

Things that are separate or distinct from one another are discrete. This spelling is easy to remember because the two e's in the second syllable are discrete from each other. Discreet means cautious, reserved, or modest, especially in speech. For instance, a discreet person is one who knows when not to speak about sensitive subjects. Discretion is the noun corresponding to discreet, so discretion is a cautious, reserved, or modest manner, and the word is also extended to mean freedom to act … [Read more...]

Harbor vs. harbour

There is no difference in meaning between harbor and harbour. Harbor is the preferred spelling in American English, and harbour is preferred in all other main varieties of English. Examples U.S. Deepening the Savannah harbor to accommodate larger ships is now the number one priority for officials in the coastal city. [GPB] State Senator Jack Hart is advocating for the city to dump its snow surplus into the harbor, saying that Boston streets have become a public safety concern. [Boston … [Read more...]

Labor vs. labour

There is no difference in meaning between labor and labour. Labor is the preferred spelling in American English, and labour is preferred throughout the rest of the English-speaking world. One exception: In Australia, the American spelling is used in reference to the Australian Labor Party. In all other contexts, Australians use labour. This idiosyncrasy results from the influence of the American labor movement on the founders of the Australian Labor Party. The British Labour Party has the … [Read more...]

That or who

Most writers use that and whichas the relative pronouns for inanimate objects, and who as the relative pronoun for humans. This widespread habit has led to the mistaken belief that using that in reference to humans is an error. In fact, while most editors prefer who for people, there is no rule saying we can't use that, and that has been widely used in reference to people for many centuries. It remains so today, especially in British writing, exemplified here: Labour insiders argue that Balls … [Read more...]

Predicate nominatives

A predicate nominative is a noun or pronoun that follows a linking verb and refers to the subject of the verb. Examples In these examples, the underlined words are predicate nominatives: They are the ones who play sparingly in the preseason ... [] They are the men who fans pay to watch and that the TV cameras and journalists love to focus on. [Aljazeera] She is a former member of the U.S. Soccer Federation Under-15 Women's National Team ... [ESPN] He believes he is who … [Read more...]

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