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

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Elicit or 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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Must, should, or ought?

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

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. Mischievous […]

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Janus words quiz

January is named after the Roman God Janus, the god of comings and goings. Janus was always depicted with two faces looking different ways and was the guardian of doorways and gates, often carved on entrances. You can see why even today he would be an apt representative for January, a time when people look […]

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Different from? Different than? Different to?

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. F. Scott Fitzgerald 1926 It’s a situation that crops up all the time – you want to contrast people or things, describing how one is not the same as the other, so you use the adjective different, and decide to […]

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Accept or except?

 ? The British really are mad as hatters – present company accepted of course. Do you accept that the above sentence is good English (please disregard the sentiments expressed therein!)? How about these two examples – would you take exception to them? ? She excepts everyone for what they are and I think this is […]

Treble / triple trouble?

Darts in dartboard

Consider the following sentences: do they strike you as completely unexceptional, or would you prefer to change the instances of treble to triple, or vice versa? The proposals will treble the size of the tiny village. The company is set to triple its output in one year. Double or even treble rows of blast walls […]

Can or could?

Can or could?

My recent post about may and might generated quite a buzz: many of you seemed to find it helpful, some picked up on my intentionally split infinitives, while other readers raised queries about two other modal auxiliary verbs, can and could. Understanding how all the modal verbs are used is vital to speaking and writing […]

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