French days and months

The French months are easy to remember because they all sound similar to their English versions.  French Pronunciation … [Read more...]

Fewer vs. less

The conventional rule for less and fewer is simple: less applies to singular nouns (including mass nouns), and fewer applies to plural nouns. For example, to have fewer dollars than someone else is to have less money, and to have fewer books is to have less reading material. Money and material, in the senses relevant here, are uncountable things, so they take less, while dollars and books are obviously countable, so they take fewer. The less/fewer distinction is not always borne out in … [Read more...]


The noun zeitgeist, meaning the spirit of the time, is a loanword from German (translating literally to time ghost).1 It's a useful word because there is no one-word English equivalent. Zeitgeist has been in widespread use for a long time (at least a century and a half),2 so it no longer needs to be capitalized or italicized. Examples His desire to get under the skin of the establishment caught the zeitgeist, and to the young of the time he proved a striking standard-bearer for disaffection … [Read more...]


In modern prosody, a dactyl is a metrical foot composed of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented ones. These words are dactyls: poetry suddenly particle Longfellow Classical dactyl In Classical prosody, a dactyl is a foot composed of one long syllable followed by two short ones. Dactyl-based meter, especially dactylic hexameter, was the basis for much Classical Greek and Latin poetry. With the shift to vernacular verse during the Middle Ages, dactylic verse gave way to iambic … [Read more...]

French greetings and salutations

If you want to be polite in a French-speaking country, memorize these common French words and phrases and use them liberally in your routine interactions.  French Pronunciation English à  bientôt ah bee-ehn-toe see you soon à  demain ah deh-mehn see you tomorrow à  toute à  l'heure ah toot ah luhr see you later à  vos souhaits ah voh soo-eht bless you (after a sneeze) adieu ah-dyuh goodbye au revoir oh reh-vwah goodbye bienvenue bee-ehn … [Read more...]


The loanword apropos comes from the French phrase à propos de, meaning with respect to. In English, apropos is conventionally used as a preposition meaning with regard to, and it's also an adjective for pertinent or to the point. Apropos is often misused in place of appropriate. This sense of apropos has nothing to do with the original French phrase or the word's conventional meaning. In such cases, appropriate is a perfectly good replacement. Still, this use of apropos is common that we … [Read more...]

Anyway vs. anyways

Anyways is a colloquial variant of the adverb anyway. It has a casual tone and may be considered out of place in formal or serious writing. In such contexts, anyway is safer. Although considered informal, anyways is not wrong. In fact, there is much precedent in English for the adverbial -s suffix, which was common in Old and Middle English and survives today in words such as towards, once, always, and unawares. But while these words survive from a period of English in which the … [Read more...]

Decry vs. descry

To decry is to denounce or disparage. To descry is (1) to see in the distance or (2) to discern with the eye. Both verbs come from the Old French descrier, meaning to call or cry out, but they came to English by different paths and developed distinct meanings long ago. Examples We decry rote memorisation merely because it is old-fashioned. But aren't today's cut-and-paste PowerPoint presentations even dumber? [Times Higher Education] Visitors to the platform will be able to look south and … [Read more...]

Someplace vs. some place

The one-word someplace is not out of place in informal writing, but it might be considered questionable in formal contexts, as it is yet to be accepted as a standard form and is listed in dictionaries only as a colloquialism. The compound may someday catch on (as someday has), but for now the two-word some place is always safer, and it is by far the more common form in published writing from this century. Examples These writers get away with using someplace because the tone is informal: But … [Read more...]

Common French expressions

These idiomatic expressions are widely used in places where French is spoken, but some make little sense when translated directly into English. They're similar to the English expressions How's it going? or What's up? in that, read literally, they don't make much sense. How's what going? Up where? Comment allez-vous? Pronounced commahn-tallay-voo, this phrase means How are you? Comment means how; allez is a conjugated version of the verb aller, meaning to go; and vous means you. Thus, the … [Read more...]

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