Catherine Soanes

Catherine Soanes is an ex-lexicographer and EFL teacher.

Articles by Catherine Soanes

Can or could? In the noun form of 'can', it's pretty obvious.

Can or could?

Like may and might, can and could cause a lot of confusion. Understanding how all the modal verbs are used is vital to speaking and writing English effectively and idiomatically, so let’s explore the meanings and uses of can and could. Given that these are quite complex verbs, I’d like to focus on explaining some key points (otherwise […]

Is it ance or ence that you add to 'differ'?

Is it -ance or -ence?

For those of you who’ve been following my occasional series about homophonous affixes (or, to put it another way, word-endings and -beginnings that sound the same when spoken!), you should now know your -ables from your -ibles and be proficient in fore- versus for- or four. There are plenty more similar-sounding affixes, though, so I thought […]

What's the difference between may or might?

May or might?

May or might? Both words are part of a special set of verbs known as modal auxiliary verbs, which means that they’re used together with other verbs to talk about permission, possibility, suggestions, etc.  Over the years, the usage recommendations regarding might and may have become more flexible, but there are still points which you should […]

Who or whom? Which one is right when?

Who or whom?

Many folk live their lives quite happily without hardly ever letting a ‘whom’ pass their lips, while others regard correct usage of these two pronouns as de rigueur, groaning every time their eyes light on a mistake. Although whom is certainly on the wane in informal situations, there are enough grammar websites devoting screenfuls of […]

Among or amongst?

Among or amongst?

One of our readers raised the following useful query a few months ago: What’s the difference between among and amongst? Among or amongst? Among is the earlier word of this pair: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it first appeared in Old English. The variant form, amongst, is a later development, coming along in the Middle […]

Loose or lose that weight?

Loose or lose?

Help! I am loosing the will to live with my smartphone! Aargh! I almost lost the will to live when I spotted the above mistake, but simultaneously wished that my Inner Spellchecker would give it a rest, so that I could simply appreciate the content of what I read rather than be distracted by spelling […]

Is themself a real word or not?

Is ‘themself’ a real word?

Where do you stand regarding the pronoun, themself? Is it perfectly OK to use it, or do you reckon that it’s beyond the pale? When I blogged about reflexive pronouns a while ago, I promised to revisit this grammatical outsider. Judging by the debate on the Net, themself stirs up much passion, with several pundits […]

fore or for

Fore- or for-?

Consider the following sentences, all real examples taken from the Oxford English Corpus (OEC). Are the words in bold spelled correctly? ?  According to the weather forcast it wasn’t supposed to snow in Birmingham today. ?  I’ll never foreget any of you. ?  His two sons are twenty-two and forteen years old. Pat yourself on the […]