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

Category: Grammar and writing help

The Oxford Comma: Hart’s Rules

Comma

The presence or lack of a comma before and or or in a list of three or more items is the subject of much debate. Such a comma is known as a serial comma. For a century it has been part of Oxford University Press style to retain or impose this last comma consistently, to […]

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Mitigate or militate?

Mitigate or militate

These two verbs have similar spellings and they sound alike when they are pronounced. As a result, it’s easy to get them confused, even though their meanings are completely different. Mitigate means ‘make something less harmful, severe, or bad’. It’s often used in formal or official contexts, as in the following sentences from the Oxford […]

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A plague of initials

Initialisms

There are always initials in the news, but it seems of late that we are suffering from a veritable plague of them (to borrow IMF, FIFA, BBC, NATO, PBS, and the NCAA. Most people probably don’t think too much about such abbreviations. If they do, it will be to classify them as different in some […]

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Alluding to illusions …

Illusion

Emmy host Jimmy Fallon … made a sly illusion to Conan O’Brien’s firing as host of “The Tonight Show”. CNN transcripts, August 2010 (taken from the Oxford English Corpus). As the above incorrect usage shows, among many troublesome twosomes in the English language are illusion and allusion. It doesn’t help that their pronunciations are similar, […]

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Compliment or complement?

Compliment or complement

A lot of people get these two words confused. It’s easy to see why: they’re pronounced in the same way and have very similar spellings but they have completely different meanings. If you compliment someone, you are expressing admiration for them, or praising them for something. Here are some examples from the Oxford English Corpus showing the […]

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-ize or -ise?

-ize or -ise?

Many people visiting the World (non-US) version of our website ask us why we spell words such as realize, finalize, and organize with ‘-ize’ spellings, rather than ‘-ise’. There’s a widespread belief that these spellings belong only to American English, and that British English should use the ‘-ise’ forms instead, i.e. realise, finalise, and organise. […]

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Affect-effect

Affect versus effect

Every month, affect is one of the most searched-for words in Oxford Dictionaries Online. Its high ranking in our search logs is probably because a lot of people are confused about the difference between affect and effect, two words which have almost the same spelling, but very different meanings. The basic difference between them is […]

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Reverting back to another language no-no

Tautology wordle

In my fearless quest to seek out and eradicate lazy, ineffective, or just downright inaccurate English, the latest blip to appear on my radar was an example of redundancy (aka tautology), which appeared on a medical website. By returning back to a more traditional diet they become healthier and stronger. Why is this raising my […]

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