Pompom vs. pompon (vs. pom-pom etc.)

The term for a decorative tuft of material such as wool or ribbon was originally pompon, which came to English from French in the 19th century, but the misheard form pompom has gradually gained ground. Today, the two are used about equally in English. Two-word spellings such as pom pom and pom pon have never been standard, though they appear in informal contexts, and hyphenated forms such as pom-pom are likewise nonstandard. There's no reason for the word to have a hyphen. Examples Although … [Read more...]

Underway vs. under way

Under way is conventionally two words when it functions as an adverb or a predicate adjective (E.g., "The ship voyage is under way."). It is usually one word, underway, when it is an adjective preceding its noun (E.g., "The underway voyage was interrupted."). But English's compounding impulse may eventually make underway the preferred term in all contexts. And in fact, many edited publications already use only the one-word form, even as a predicate adjective. Examples These publications buck … [Read more...]

Throw under the bus

The clichéd expression throw under the bus means, roughly, (1) to betray, (2) to callously dispose of, or (3) to pass blame onto another for selfish reasons. It has been ubiquitous in the U.S. media for several years. While the expression might work in rare circumstances, it reeks of hyperbole and introduces violent imagery where it usually isn't called for. In our search for examples in the news, about half the instances of under the bus dealt with actual vehicular violence, which to us … [Read more...]


A clause is a group of words containing a subject (a noun or noun phrase) and a predicate (a verb, its qualifiers, and its object). Some sentences are made of single clauses. For example, This clause is a sentence. Others are made of multiple clauses. For instance, this sentence has three clauses: Since no one could pick us up, we had to take a cab, which cost almost $70. A clause is different from a phrase in that it is a self-contained unit with both a subject and a predicate, while a … [Read more...]

Restrictive and nonrestrictive

In grammar, a restrictive clause, word, or phrase provides crucial clarifying information about a previously named element. A nonrestrictive clause or phrase adds information that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Examples Let's identify the restrictive and nonrestrictive elements in a few examples: [1] Democrats in the state Senate fled Wisconsin on Thursday ... [Wall Street Journal] The phrase in the state senate is restrictive because Democrats without the modifying phrase … [Read more...]


When two or more words have the same or nearly the same meaning, they are synonyms. Some synonyms are exactly the same in certain senses---for example, student and pupil, buy and purchase, stroll and saunter, rush and hurry, language and tongue, and on and upon. Others aren't exactly alike, but close enough to be called synonyms---for example, walk and stroll, job and gig, talk and lecture, teenager and youth, brown and tawny, and ocean and sea. Although we usually think of synonyms as … [Read more...]

Dice vs. die

The singular of dice---a plural noun referring to the small cubes used in games of chance---is die. Because the irregular plural is more common than the singular, many writers forget to use the singular at all---for example: If the dice is rolled and there is a choice, what do we need to consider? [Irish Times] The way the dice is loaded, as things stand, the company takes on interest bearing loans and in turn advances interest free loans to its 100% owned subsidiaries. [Equity Master] The … [Read more...]

Adverse vs. averse

Averse means (1) to be opposed or (2) to be strongly disinclined. Adverse means to be acting in opposition. Averse describes an attitude or a feeling, while adverse describes something that works against something else. The two adjectives are often confused. Adverse's corresponding noun is adversity. Averse's is averseness (aversity is not a word so far recognized by dictionaries). As adverbs, they're inflected similarly---adversely and aversely. Synonyms and examples Averse---some of whose … [Read more...]


The verb enthuse, formed by backformation from the adjective enthusiastic, means to be enthusiastic or to show enthusiasm. The word peeves some people who care about English usage, but it has been widespread in the language long enough to gain at least grudging acceptance. No one is forced to use it, but it is certainly a word, and most English speakers know what it means. Similar backformations such as donate (from donation) and diagnose (from diagnosis) are now unquestioned. Whether enthuse … [Read more...]

Flavor vs. flavour

Flavor and flavour are different spellings of the same word. Flavor is the preferred spelling in the United States, while flavour is the preferred spelling throughout the rest of the English-speaking world. The preference extends to all derivatives; American English has flavored, flavoring, flavorful, etc., while the other main varieties of English have flavoured, flavouring, flavourful, etc. Though flavor has become the American spelling, it is not new. Examples of its use are easily found … [Read more...]

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