Mucous vs. mucus

Mucus is a noun referring to the viscous, slippery substance secreted as a protective lubricant coating cells and glands of the mucous membranes. Mucous is an adjective meaning (1) containing, producing, or secreting mucus; or (2) relating to, consisting of, or resembling mucus. In the phrase mucous membrane, mucous is the correct spelling because it is an adjective modifying membrane. Examples Mucus The tableware, the color of mucus and as bendable as a pocket watch in a Salvador Dali … [Read more...]

Loath vs. loathe (vs. loth)

Loathe is a verb meaning to dislike greatly. For example, if you have a mean boss, you might say that you loathe him. Loath is an adjective meaning unwilling or reluctant. For example, you might say that you are loath to to spend time with your mean boss outside work. Loth is a variant of loath and serves no purpose of its own. It is most common in U.K. English, though even U.K. writers prefer loath by a significant margin. If you have trouble remembering the difference … [Read more...]

Prescribe vs. proscribe

To prescribe is (1) to set down as a rule, or (2) to order the use of. Proscribe is almost the opposite; to proscribe is (1) to prohibit, or (2) to denounce or condemn. Examples They may both prescribe positive behaviors (e.g., be honest, transparent, candid, and trustworthy) and proscribe negative ones (e.g., no negative e-mail blasts to team members). [Forbes] Prescribe Lawyers for two of the five students said they plan to ask a court to prescribe drug treatment rather than prison. … [Read more...]

Envision vs. envisage

Both envision and envisage mean to visualize, but they differ slightly in connotation. To envisage is to contemplate or consider something---usually something real---in a certain way, or to predict a particular set of circumstances based on evidence or strong belief. Envisaging often relates to planning real-world projects. When you envision something, it's usually more hypothetical, imaginary, or removed from reality. The difference is subtle, but think of it this way: Envisaging usually … [Read more...]

Lay vs. lie

Lie and lay both have many definitions, but they're most often confused where lie means to recline and lay means to put down. But the distinction is simple: Lay needs an object---something being laid---while lie cannot have an object. For example, you might lay a book on the table, lay a sweater on the bed, or lay a child in her crib. When you feel tired at the end of the day, you may lie down. But you can't lie a book anywhere, and you can't lay down (no object) at the end of the day. The … [Read more...]

Homogenous vs. homogeneous

Homogeneous means (1) of the same or similar nature, and (2) uniform in structure or composition. Its corresponding noun is homogeneity. Homogenous, whose corresponding noun is homogeny, is a little-used biological term whose old sense has mostly been lost. Today, it's primarily a variant of homogeneous in general usage, though it still has uses in science, where spelling it any other way would be considered an error. Though some careful nonscientific writers continue to try to keep the words … [Read more...]


To deign is to condescend to do something. When you deign to perform an action, you perceive the action to be beneath your dignity, but you reluctantly do it anyway. For example, a person used to fine dining might deign to eat fast food when nothing else is available, or a usually dignified man might deign to dress up as a clown to entertain his grandkids. In conventional usage, deign is always followed by to. For instance, instead of she doesn't deign say hello, we write she doesn't deign to … [Read more...]

Subjects and predicates

Every sentence and clause must have two components: the subject and the predicate. The subject is the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that performs the action of the sentence's main verb. The predicate includes the action (the verb) and all attributes of the action. In English, subjects almost always come before predicates. But they don't always come right at the beginnings of sentences. For instance, consider this sentence: If total national debt across all sectors is calculated, as opposed … [Read more...]

Empathy vs. sympathy

When you understand and feel another's feelings for yourself, you have empathy. It's often spoken of as a character attribute that people have to varying degrees. For example, if hearing a tragic news story makes you feel almost as if the story concerns you personally, you have the ability to empathize. When you sympathize with someone, you have compassion for that person, but you don't necessarily feel her feelings. For instance, if your feelings toward someone who is experiencing hardship … [Read more...]


Because spendthrift contains the word thrift, which on its own means frugal or wise with money, some people mistakenly assume a spendthrift is someone who is frugal or careful with money. But it actually means the opposite; a spendthrift is someone who spends money recklessly or wastefully. In Middle English, where spendthrift originates, thrift meant well-being or prosperity, so spendthrift literally translates in modern English to spend prosperity. In other words, a spendthrift is someone who … [Read more...]

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