Defence vs. defense

Defence and defense are different spellings of the same word. Defense is preferred in American English, and defence is preferred in all other main varieties of English, including Australian, British, and Canadian English. The spelling distinction extends to most derivatives of defence/defense, including defences/defenses and defenceless/defenseless. But the words defensive, defensiveness, and defensively have an s everywhere. Though defense is now the American spelling, it is not American in … [Read more...]

French definite articles

The English definite article the translates into three separate words in French: (1) le, the definite article for singular masculine nouns; (2) la, the definite article for singular feminine nouns; and (3) les, the definite article for plural nouns of either gender. Before a vowel When either le or la comes before a noun that starts with a vowel sound, the e or a of the article is elided, creating l'---for example, l'eau (the water), l'accent (the accent), l'heure (the hour). A … [Read more...]

French alphabet pronunciation

French and English use the same alphabet (unlike the Spanish alphabet, for example, which has a few extra letters), but the letters are pronounced … [Read more...]


A dangler (also known as a dangling modifier or dangling participle) is a sentence element---usually a participle or a phrase anchored by one---that doesn't relate syntactically to the noun it's intended to modify. In other words, when a modifier doesn't appear where it's logically supposed to be, it's a dangler---for example: Leaving home, the weather was sunny and crisp. Here, because the introductory modifying phrase leaving home immediately precedes the subject the weather, this sentence … [Read more...]

Bad rap vs. bad wrap

A bad wrap is an unappetizing sandwich made of fillings wrapped in a tortilla. A bad rap---otherwise known as a bum rap---is dishonor resulting from false accusations or trumped-up charges. No hyphen is needed in this noun phrase. There's also bad rep (where rep is short for reputation---an abbreviation that dates back centuries), which makes more sense than bad wrap. To have a bad rap is to have a bad rep, but bad rep appears only rarely, and some readers might interpret it as a misspelling … [Read more...]

Instantly vs. instantaneously

Instantly means at once or immediately. Instantaneously is variously assigned several meanings, some of which conflict with each other, but several references sources agree on a primary definition: happening or exerted with no delay in relation to something else. For example, one can tweet instantaneously about live sporting events, and a high-tech car can react instantaneously to changes in road conditions. This sense is indisputably the one usually meant in science, where, for example, Isaac … [Read more...]


An isometric poem or stanza is composed of lines of uniform length. In traditional poetry, most poems were isometric, adhering to a set line length throughout. For example, this stanza by William Blake is isometric: Phoebe dressed like beauty's queen, Jellicoe in faint pea-green--- Sitting all beneath a grot, Where the little lambkins trot. All the lines are seven syllables, or four feet, in length. In this stanza, the lines are metrically identical, but isometric poems and stanzas may also … [Read more...]

Rule of thumb

The idiom rule of thumb, meaning a principle that's widely useful but not strictly accurate in all circumstances, has origins in the practice of making measurements with one's thumb.1 In this idiom, rule originally carried one of its now little-used definitions---a straight-edged device used for measuring or drawing lines---but it's now taken on the more common definition. Now, when you hear the phrase rule of thumb, it's more or less synonymous with general rule. Contrary to the old myth now … [Read more...]

Palindrome (poetry)

In poetry, a palindrome (from the Greek palindromos, meaning running back again) is a poem, line, or sentence that reads the same both forward and backward, either letter by letter or word by word. One early example, attributed to Gregory of Nazianuzus (329--389 A.D.), is in Latin: nipson anomemata me monan opsin This translates to, Wash my transgressions, not only my face. There are also some well-known examples in English, such as these two attributed to Napoleon: Madam, I'm … [Read more...]

Overnight vs. over night

Overnight is one word when it functions as an adjective or adverb, as in these examples: Cover and refrigerate overnight. [Mommy's Kitchen] His Olympic super-combined originally was set for Tuesday but an overnight snowstorm forced organizers to push the race back to Sunday. [Associated Press] This covers most instances in which the words over and night work together. The two-word phrase over night is reserved for constructions such as I prefer day over night, but these don't come up often. … [Read more...]

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