The conjunction whereas has a number of meanings, but it's most commonly used to mean although or while in contrast. In these senses of whereas, the word is grammatically identical to while or although. That is, it introduces a dependent clause. Whereas often introduces a thought that contrasts with something in the main clause. For example, consider this sentence: Some couples now both have to work, whereas only one person did before. [Washington Post] In this sentence, whereas introduces … [Read more...]

Flier vs. flyer

Outside the U.S., there is no difference between flyer and flier. They are interchangeable, though flyer is about twice as common as flier. American writers tend to use flyer for small handbills and flier for people and things that fly. This distinction does not run deep, though, and the two spellings are very often used interchangeably even in the U.S., so it's safe to say that neither is correct or incorrect for any sense of the word. An earlier version of this post said simply that flier … [Read more...]

Flounder vs. founder

To flounder is (1) to struggle or move with difficulty, as in mud; or (2) to behave awkwardly or make mistakes. One who flounders does not fail completely but merely struggles. To founder is (1) to cave in, (2) to sink below the water, (3) to fail utterly, or (4) to go lame. While to flounder is merely to struggle, foundering usually involves utter failure. Because there are degrees of struggle and failure, and because failure is often the outcome of struggle, flounder and founder often come … [Read more...]

Endemic vs. epidemic

As an adjective, epidemic describes diseases and conditions that spread rapidly and extensively by infection and affect many people at the same time, and it's used figuratively to describe widely prevalent things other than infectious diseases. It also doubles as a noun referring to things that are epidemic. By its scientific definition, epidemic only applies to infectious diseases and not to, say, obesity, beetles, or laptop theft, but such figurative, nonscientific use is common. Endemic, … [Read more...]

Wrong vs. wrongly

Wrong and wrongly are both adverbs, meaning incorrectly, badly, or mistakenly. Usage authorities differ on whether using wrong this way is acceptable, but in real-world usage, the adverbial wrong is not just widely accepted but common. The adverbial wrong always follows the verb it modifies (e.g., he answered wrong). It also follows the object of the verb if there is one (e.g., he answered the question wrong). And wrongly can go either before or after its verb (e.g., he was wrongly imprisoned … [Read more...]

Forbear vs. forebear

To forbear is to refrain, to hold back, or to tolerate in the face of provocation. The word only works as a verb. Its past tense is forbore, and its past participle is forborne. It's usually pronounced for-BEAR. Forebear, meanwhile, is a noun referring to a person from whom one is descended---i.e., an ancestor. It's usually pronounced FOR-bear. For obvious reasons, the two words are often confused. They are easy to keep separate, though, if you remember that a forebear is one who comes … [Read more...]

For the purpose of

The wordy phrase for the purpose of can usually be shortened, often to just one word, usually to. For example, let's shorten this sentence: Commercial shows are one-off projects put on for the purpose of making money. [Chicago Tribune] Here's one alternative: Commercial shows are one-off projects put on to make money. Another example: He says Evite created the ID for the purpose of sharing information with Facebook. [PC World] This might be better: He says Evite created the ID to share … [Read more...]

Theater vs. theatre

In most contexts, there is no difference in meaning between theater and theatre. Neither has any special definitions in general usage. The main thing that most English speakers and learners need to know is that theater is the preferred spelling in American English, and theatre is preferred virtually everywhere else. Some Americans do make distinctions---for instance, that a theater is a venue while theatre is an art form, or that a theater is a movie theater while a theatre is a drama venue. … [Read more...]


When the -ing form of a verb acts as a noun, it is a gerund. Gerunds are identical to but different from present participles, which are -ing verbs that function as adjectives. For example, bleeding is a gerund when it's a noun (e.g., stop the bleeding) and a present participle when it functions as an adjective (e.g., the bleeding man). So, when we see the word bleeding on its own, it's impossible to say whether it is a gerund or a present participle. It can't be both, but we need context to … [Read more...]

Catty-corner, kitty-corner

Catty-corner, kitty-corner, and cater-cornered all derive from the Middle English catre-corner, literally meaning four-cornered. All three forms are used throughout the English-speaking world. They usually mean positioned diagonally across a four-way intersection, but they can work in other contexts relating to one thing being diagonal from another. While most dictionaries recommend cater-cornered, kitty-corner and catty-corner are more common in actual usage. The … [Read more...]

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