Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Category: Grammar and writing help

Grisly bears and grizzly murders?

Grisly bears and grizzly murders?

Most of us would agree that English spelling can be a minefield: one reason for this is that there are numerous words which sound the same when you say or hear them but which are spelled differently and which have completely different meanings: a few examples are pour/pore, flower/flour, and sight/site. Such words are known […]

“Does ‘all of’ have any legit uses?” A reflection by David Foster Wallace from the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

“Does ‘all of’ have any legit uses?” A reflection by David Foster Wallace from the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

Other than as an ironic idiom for ‘no more than’ (e.g., sex with Edgar lasts all of twenty seconds), does all of have any legit uses? The answer is a qualified, complicated, and personally embarrassed yes. Here’s the story. An irksome habit of many student writers is to just automatically stick an of between all […]

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Less or fewer?

Less or fewer?

There are less problems with finding staff these days too. If anything, we’ve had fewer problems than we expected. Do you ever waver when it comes to choosing between less and fewer? You’re in good company, as the above examples (both taken from a British newspaper website on the same date) demonstrate. You may even […]

09 Aug - Collective nouns- Large

Who decides on the right collective noun for something?

  The short answer is no one. While some languages, such as Spanish, French, and German, are ruled by committee there is no academy or governing body that decides on how English should evolve. Indeed English has never been under the administrative rule of a language academy. A keeper of English, according to the eighteenth-century […]

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Plain English in practice: writing instructions

Plain English in practice: writing instructions

In a previous piece, I looked at some guidelines for writing plain Engl­­­ish: that is, the kind of English that will get your intended meaning across most clearly. Here, I take you through an example. Warning: Instructions may contain lethal sesquipedalian lexemes There are times when clear writing can make the difference between life and […]

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

Rhyme and reason: how do we describe different types of rhymes?

English has a rich vocabulary for rhyme, but names are unstable: in what follows, therefore, alternative names are sometimes provided in parenthesis. Fortunately, however, there is more variation in labelling than understanding, for the basic definition of rhyme as involving two elements (the last stressed vowel + all following letters) creates an obvious structure of […]

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Pedal or peddle?

Bike

English spelling is full of apparent idiosyncrasies – native speakers and learners alike grapple with doubling consonants, how to form plurals, ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’, and have to dodge umpteen other potential pitfalls. Another rich source of mistakes is the fact that English contains pairs of similar-sounding words (homophones). These words have different […]

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Keep calm, and say it plainly

Plain English

Ever since I first read an ancient edition of Ernest Gowers’ book on plain English about fifteen years ago, I’ve tried to put his guidelines into practice whenever I write. I don’t always get it right – I’m sure you’ll catch me out in this piece of writing – but I always try. What is […]

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