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...]

Gaff vs. gaffe

Gaffe, with an e, refers to (1) a clumsy social error, (2) a faux pas, or (3) a blatant mistake or misjudgment. The far less common gaff, without the e, has several definitions related to fishing and sailing, and it also bears the sense a disreputable music hall or theater, which is used primarily in British English. Examples Older people have more trouble detecting social gaffes committed by others, the result of a decline in how they perceive emotions. [Reuters] The Tribal Warrior is a … [Read more...]

Gantlet vs. gauntlet

Gantlet was the original spelling of the word referring to a form of punishment in which people armed with sticks or other weapons arrange themselves in two lines and beat a person forced to run between them. It came from the earlier English word gantlope, which in turn comes from the Swedish gatlopp.1 Gauntlet is an alternative spelling of gantlet, but it also has several definitions of its own, mostly related to gloves. Gantlet was the preferred spelling in early use of the phrase run the … [Read more...]

If you will

If you will, meaning if you will allow me to use this phrase, is a hedge phrase, and it could usually be removed. Writers often use it to apologize for a weak phrase---often a bad metaphor, a corny coinage, or a phrase the writer is reluctant to use. And sometimes it's used when a writer doesn't trust his or her readers to understand a metaphor---for example: A musical chairs with cars, if you will. [Savannah Now] [It] becomes your filing cabinet, if you will, for all those end-of-life … [Read more...]

Incomparable vs. uncomparable

Two or more things that can't be compared with each other are uncomparable. Something that is so good that it is beyond comparison is incomparable. Some dictionaries don't list uncomparable, and your spell check might say it's wrong, but it's a perfectly good, useful word. It fills a role not conventionally filled by incomparable. Examples Today it is cattle grazing on private ranches that preserves 20 million acres of incomparable landscape. [San Francisco Chronicle] With some words the … [Read more...]


The first century consisted of the years 1 through 100. Therefore, the second century consisted of 101 through 200, the third century 201 through 300, and so on. That's why the 19th century, for example, consists of the 1800s instead of the 1900s. Centuries aren't normally capitalized. Some publications spell out centuries (e.g., twentieth century), while others use numerals (e.g., 20th century) for centuries after the tenth. It's a matter of preference, so neither is inherently right or … [Read more...]

Quash vs. squash

As a verb, squash means to beat, squeeze, press, or crush something into a flattened mass. As a noun it denotes the family of tendril-bearing plants with leathery rinds and edible fruit, while squash is also racket game played in a closed-walled court with a rubber ball. Quash means (1) to set aside or annul by judicial action, and (2) to suppress forcibly and completely. When squash is used figuratively, its meaning can come very close to quash in the second sense. Examples Squash Once … [Read more...]

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