Category: Grammar and writing help

magazines pile

Why do we need grammar?

It’s not often that the word ‘inspiring’ is used to describe a day of grammar talks, but I was not the only one to think so at last week’s English Grammar Day at the British Library. With a queue out the door and tickets sold out, it’s clear that grammar’s back. After years of conspicuous […]

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Unusual words include pusillanimous, meaning 'lacking in courage'.

Unusual words with surprising meanings

When you hear or read a new word, it can be difficult to work out what the meaning might be intuitively. That, of course, is partly what dictionaries are for. When a word sounds like another, though, you might be misled into thinking you can guess its meaning… Here are some definitions of words which […]

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Advise or advice? Which one would you advise?

Advise or advice?

What’s the difference between advise and advice? Do you know? Does it matter? Well, yes, it does, because apart from the obvious fact that one has the ending -ise and the other -ice, there’s a highly significant distinction: one’s a verb and one’s a noun. These grammatical and spelling differences involve a related semantic one […]

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Do you know the difference between affect and effect?

Affect or effect: a visual guide

What’s the difference between affect and effect? We know that a lot of people get confused about the difference between affect and effect – so we’ve put together a handy infographic to help you out. You can even print it out and stick it above your desk for quick reference. All the essentials are here, […]

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Is data plural or singular or both?

What is the plural of data?

Your data was corrupted… Wah! First thought: I’ve lost some work. Second thought: shouldn’t that be ‘…data were corrupted’? In the strictest sense, yes, because it’s all a question of ensuring that you match singular subjects with singular verbs, and ditto plural subjects and verbs, a process called agreement. Easy when it’s a straightforward case, such […]

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Elicit vs. illicit: which one should it be?

Elicit vs. illicit

1. Such a question isn’t intended to elicit an answer. 2. VHF radio calls from the coastguard and other ships were illiciting no response. 3. He brazenly carried on an elicit affair with Bert’s wife. 4. She admitted to having been in possession of illicit drugs. 5. You can imagine the amount of booing this […]

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Should, must, or ought to?

Must, should, or ought to?

A woman’s place is in the bosom of her family; her thoughts ought seldom to emerge from it. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, Volume 97, 1825 Those nineteenth-century moralists! Can you imagine what today’s world would have been like if women such as Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, or Harriet Beecher Stowe had confined their […]

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Mischievous or mischievious? The child here is definitely being it.

Mischievous or mischievious?

Our most recent poll asked our readers the following question: Which spelling would you have chosen? If you had gone with mischievious you would have been with the majority of our voters – 53% of people chose this spelling. However, the standard accepted spelling is in fact mischievous, chosen by 47% of our readers. Make […]

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