Persecute vs. prosecute

The main definitions of prosecute are (1) to initiate legal proceedings against, (2) to carry on or engage in, and (3) to pursue an undertaking to completion. Persecute means to oppress or harass, especially because of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. The adjectives are occasionally confused because of their similarity in sound, but their roots differ and their meanings have no common ground. If you have trouble keeping them straight, just remember that prosecution is a legal … [Read more...]


Something that is ponderous (1) has great weight, (2) is unwieldy, or (3) labored and dull. Ponderous does not mean thoughtful or given to pondering. Ponderous and ponder share an Old French root, but they came to English separately and have always had unrelated meanings. Ponderous is almost always used figuratively and is not simply a synonym of heavy. It wouldn't make sense to describe a 100-pound package, for example, as ponderous just because it's heavy. But getting the package into your … [Read more...]

Creeped vs. crept

The verb to creep is traditionally inflected crept in the past tense and as a past participle. Creeped has crept into the language, however, and is now an accepted variant, though it might be considered informal or dialectal. Crept is still considered preferable to creeped in almost all cases, with one main exception---in the past tense of the phrasal verb creep out, meaning to strike [someone] as weird in a frightening or off-putting way. As an inflection of this phrasal verb, creeped out is … [Read more...]


The verb corresponding to blasphemy---which means a contemptuous or profane act or utterance against God or another sacred entity---is blaspheme. Its pronunciation (blas-FEEM) can be a little awkward for English speakers as we're not used to iambic verbs, and this might partially explain why the more natural-sounding blasphemy sometimes appears as a verb, especially in speech. Examples Blasphemy is about ten times as common as blaspheme, but the verb can be useful---for example: The past two … [Read more...]

Contemporaneous vs. contemporary

Contemporary and contemporaneous both describe two or more things originating, existing, or happening during the same period, but they differ slightly in usage. People or groups that are active during the same time are contemporary with each other. For example, the Beatles and the Beach Boys were contemporaries (the word also works as a noun) because they were active at the same time. Contemporaneous describes events, movements, and trends that happen at the same time. For example, we could say … [Read more...]

During the course of

During the course of is wordy for during. It's slightly different from in the course of, which is often replaceable with other prepositions like in, over, and while. And while during is usually the best replacement for during the course of, in and on are sometimes better. Examples In each of these sentences, during the course of could be shortened to just during: In other words, during the course of integration, the two companies will need to combine all of their operating … [Read more...]

Conceive vs. perceive

To perceive is to become aware of something directly through the senses. To conceive is to form something in the mind or to develop an understanding. So perceiving is merely seeing, and conceiving is deeper.  But perception often involves passive evaluation, and this is where the line between the verbs perceive and conceive becomes blurred. Think of perceptions as relatively shallow interpretations, and conceptions as more creative interpretations involving substantial thought or … [Read more...]

Trustee vs. trusty

The principal definition of trusty is meriting trust, trustworthy, or reliable. It's almost always an adjective, but it's occasionally a noun denoting a trusty person. Trustee is almost always a noun denoting a person or organization. Its main definitions are (1) one that holds legal title to property in order to administer it for a beneficiary, and (2) a member of a board directing the funds of an institution. It can also be a verb meaning to place in the care of a trustee, but it is rarely … [Read more...]

Expectant vs. expecting

The definition of the adjective expectant is having or marked by expectation, where expectation is a feeling of eagerness or anticipation. For example, if you say you're going to give your daughter a piece of cake in five minutes, she might be rather expectant until then. Expectant is also a euphemism for pregnant or expecting a baby. It usually precedes the noun it modifies (e.g., expectant mother or expectant parents), while expecting is usually used in pregnancy-related contexts where a … [Read more...]


Briton is the most widely accepted term for people from Britain (which of course is not the same as England and the United Kingdom). Britisher had a brief heyday in the 20th century, but it was always only an American term and was never accepted by Britons themselves. Brit is not offensive, but it is informal. Of these words, Brit appears most often because it serves as both a noun and an adjective, and probably also because it's short and not a homophone with Britain. Briton is only a noun, … [Read more...]

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