Learned vs. learnt

Learned is the more common past tense and past participle of the verb learn. Learnt is a variant especially common outside North America. In British writing, for instance, it appears about once for every three instances of learned. In the U.S. and Canada, meanwhile, learnt appears only once for approximately every 500 instances of learned, and it's generally considered colloquial. Writers throughout the English-speaking world use learned as the adjective meaning possessing broad, profound … [Read more...]


In English, the Latin word sic, meaning thus or so, is usually used within quoted passages, and it indicates that the quoted text is reproduced exactly as it appears in the original. It can be useful when you are quoting from a source that has spelling or grammar errors and you want to make sure your readers know the errors are not yours. Sic may be italicized (although it's often not) and is usually enclosed in brackets within the quotation. The following examples are copied from the linked … [Read more...]

Fiber vs. fibre

There is no difference in meaning between fiber and fibre. Fiber is the preferred spelling in American English, and fibre is preferred in all the other main varieties of English. Both spellings are many centuries old, and neither spelling was clearly prevalent on either side of the Atlantic until the second half of the 18th century. This was a period in which many British educators began to consider it proper for English words of French and Latin origin to take their more French and Latin … [Read more...]

Sheath vs. sheathe

If you know the difference between breath and breathe, then you should be comfortable with sheath and sheathe. Like breath, sheath is only a noun. It means (1) a case for a blade, or (2) a close-fitting dress (and there are a few less common senses that most of us will never have to use). Like breathe, sheathe is always a verb. It means to insert something into a sheath. Its opposite is unsheathe. Examples Multiple sclerosis is defined as a chronic progressive nervous disorder involving loss … [Read more...]

Than vs. then

Then is mainly an adverb, often used to situate actions in time. For example, you wake up in the morning and then have breakfast. It's also used in if ... then constructions such as, "If you wake late, then you might have to skip breakfast." It also works as a noun meaning that time (e.g., "I wanted breakfast, but then was not a good time") and as an adjective meaning at that time (e.g., "My then boyfriend was not an early riser"). Than is a conjunction used mainly in making … [Read more...]

Assume vs. presume

Assume and presume both mean to take something for granted as true (among their many other definitions). The difference is in the degree of certainty. A presumption is usually more authoritative than an assumption. To presume is to make an informed guess based on reasonable evidence, while to assume is to make a guess based on little or no evidence. Examples In this example, presume is the better word choice because the speaker's guess is based on irrefutable evidence: I told the host, whom I … [Read more...]

Breath vs. breathe

Breath is a noun. Breathe is a verb. When you breathe, you inhale and exhale breath. The simplicity of this distinction doesn't prevent the occasional mixup---for example: So imagine my surprise when the view from the east side of the Eaglecrest area on a recent snowshoe walk took my breathe away. [Juneau Empire] Again, the Horseshoe Kingdom appeared to breath a little easier. [Indianapolis Business Journal] These writers use the words correctly: Under normal circumstances I wouldn't waste … [Read more...]

Breath vs. breadth (vs. width)

Breath is the air you breathe in and out your lungs. That one is easy. Breadth is a synonym of width (hence the expression hair's breadth, meaning a very short width), but there are two subtle distinctions breadth and width. First, whereas width is used for the side-to-side extent of things of all sizes, breadth is generally reserved for things whose spans are especially large. For instance, rooms and streets are often described in terms of width, while hurricanes and large geographical … [Read more...]

Percent vs. per cent

The one-word percent is standard in American English. Percent is not absent from other varieties of English, but most publications still prefer the two-word per cent. The older forms per-cent, per cent. (per cent followed by a period), and the original per centum have mostly disappeared from the language (although the latter sometimes appears in legal writing). There is no difference between percent and per cent. Choosing between them is simply a matter of preference. Examples U.S. The … [Read more...]

Pore over vs. pour over

The phrase meaning to study carefully is pore over. It comes from a little-used sense of the verb pore---namely, to meditate deeply. In modern writing, this sense of pore rarely appears outside this phrase. Pour over is of course a meaningful phrase in its own right, but it has nothing to do with studying. It's what you do, for example, with milk to a bowl of cereal. Examples Major employers are using specialist anti-union lawyers to pore over the legislation. [] Young men pore … [Read more...]

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