Tag: English usage

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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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A century of defining our language

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Since the publication of its first edition in 1911, the revolutionary Concise Oxford Dictionary has remained in print and gained fame around the world over the course of eleven editions. This month heralds the publication of the centenary edition: the new 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary contains some 400 new entries, including […]


Riotous words

Various English cities spent a good portion of last week dealing with rioting, avoiding the riots, commenting on said riots, and cleaning up the aftermath. Leaving aside the ongoing discussion regarding the causes and effects of these civil disturbances, it would be interesting to look at the word riot itself. Riot has been in use […]

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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 […]

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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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Short and tweet

Keeping it short and tweet

I’m getting addicted to @OxfordWords on Twitter, where you can see all the latest from Oxford Dictionaries plus some great interaction with our thousands of followers. There’s a real skill to tweeting well: as many of you know, there is a 140-character limit to Twitter posts, so it can take some ingenuity to get your […]

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Alluding to illusions …

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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