Category: Grammar and writing help

principal

Principle or principal?

It’s very easy to confuse these two words. Although they sound the same when they’re spoken, their meanings are quite different. Here are two sentences in which the wrong choice has been made: X The principle aim of the initiative is to make art accessible to everyone. X There are too many designers who do […]

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Spelling: as easy as ABC?

Spelling: as easy as ABC?

Spelling.  It’s a great leveller. The most academically decorated can find it difficult, and someone without a single formal qualification can find it as easy as, well, as easy as ABC.  If you are lucky enough to be in the latter category, it can be bewildering to encounter others who are not equally as adept […]

Redundant expressions

Redundant expressions

Bad habits are hard to break A bad practice in writing (and speaking) is redundancy. Anyone who has sat through a speech that goes round and round and uses the same few words over and over knows what I mean. We may sometimes do this deliberately, for stylistic reasons, or in order to raise the […]

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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