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Idea vs. ideal

As a noun, ideal refers to (1) a conception of something in its absolute perfection, or (2) an honorable or worthy principle or aim. It is not conventionally a variant or synonym of idea, though it is sometimes colloquially used this way. Example However, this ideal isn't always reached by governments that want their thumbs on the economy and, more particularly, the revenue it represents. [Small Business Trends] The pluralistic ideal that many communities strive for is an unattainable … [Read more...]

Naught vs. nought

Both naught and nought mean nothing, and in American English they are more or less interchangeable (though naught is the more common spelling). Elsewhere, they are different. Nought is conventionally used in British English for the number zero---for example: This season that figure is at 1.36: they are fifth despite scoring just 25 goals and having a goal difference of nought. [Guardian] The number opting for the subject ranges from nought to 90 per cent. [The Independent] In both British … [Read more...]

Breach, breech, broach

Breachis a noun referring to (1) an opening or gap or (2) a violation or disruption, and a verb meaning (3) to make a hole or gap in or to break through. Breech is only a noun. It refers to to (1) the lower rear portion of the human trunk, or (2) the part of a firearm behind the barrel. The term breech birth (meaning the feet- or buttocks-first delivery of a baby) employs the word in its first sense. Broach means (1) to make a hole in something, usually to draw off liquid, or (2) to bring up … [Read more...]

Homo sapiens

Homo sapiens, Latin for wise man or knowing man, is a singular phrasal noun. Like all Latin taxonomic names, Homo sapiens is italicized. The genus name (Homo) is capitalized, and the species name (sapiens) is not. After the first mention, it is often abbreviated H. sapiens. The s at the end of sapiens is deceptive to English speakers because it makes the term sound plural, even though it's not. That's why so many writers give it plural verbs, as these do: Homo sapiens are an awfully vain … [Read more...]

All right vs. alright

The use of alright in place of all right has never been condoned by dictionaries or usage authorities, but this convention is not likely to last. Web searches already generate approximately one alright for every all right, and the brevity and versatility of alright is likely to overpower the clunkiness (in some uses) of all right. Still, even though alright is closing ground on all right, the latter is never wrong and the former is still considered problematic by some. So if you came here … [Read more...]

Turbid, turgid, torpid

Turbid (whose corresponding nouns are turbidity and turbidness, though the former is favored) means having sediment or foreign particles stirred up or suspended; muddy. It usually applies to water, but it’s also used metaphorically. Turgid (whose corresponding noun is turgidity) means swollen and distended or bloated, but it’s more often used in a metaphorical sense to mean excessively ornate or complex in style or language. For example, when someone calls a piece of writing turgid, they mean … [Read more...]

To boot

The idiom to boot, meaning in addition or besides, has nothing to do with footwear. This sense of boot is left over from the Old English bt and Middle English bote, where the word meant an advantage or something included in a bargain, and the phrase to boot has been in common usage since the time of Old English. Examples For those of us who went to regular schools (in Malaysia, to boot), English boarding schools seemed (and still seem) exotic and glamorous. [The Places You Will Go] It … [Read more...]

Stalactite, stalagmite

Both stalactites and stalagmites are conical-shaped mineral deposits formed in caverns by the dripping of mineral-rich water. The difference is simple: stalactites hang from above, while stalagmites grow from the floor up. Both words can be either count nouns (e.g., there were stalactites in the cave) or mass nouns (e.g., there was stalactite in the cave). Examples And watching a 3D movie underground is a good way to crack your forehead on a stalactite. [Cinematical] All that has kept parts … [Read more...]

Normalcy vs. normality

Normality and normalcy are different forms of the same word. Normality is centuries older, though, and many English authorities consider it the superior form, for what that's worth. Nouns ending in -cy usually come from adjectives ending in -t---for example, pregnancy from pregnant, complacency from complacent, hesitancy from hesitant---while adjectives ending in -l usually take the -ity suffix. Normalcy is unique in flouting this convention. Normalcy was popularized in the early 20th century … [Read more...]

Wane, wax

Something that wanes (1) decreases in size, amount, number, intensity, or degree; (2) declines; or (3) approaches its end. Something that waxes does the opposite. It increases in size, amount, number, intensity, or degree. For example, the Earth's moon waxes for about two weeks after the new moon and wanes for about two weeks after the full moon. A separate verb definition of wax is to become. This sense of wax tends to appear in specific phrases, especially wax poetic and wax … [Read more...]

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