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

Participles, and how not to dangle them…

Dangling kitten

True confessions time: back in the dim and distant days when I first embarked on lexicography, I was tasked with drafting potted biographies of famous people. In trying to be succinct, I had a rather bad habit of writing in the following vein: ‘Born in Russia, his most famous opera is …’ The problem stems […]

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Punctuational perplexities

Punctuation

Are you punctilious about punctuation, or do you regard it as a hassle or a minefield? Many people, including no doubt the person who posted the example below on a social networking site, seem to share the latter view. It often appears that, rather than get it wrong, there are those who prefer to omit […]

A quest for agreement over collective nouns

Agreement

I’d like to begin with a quick mental workout. Do you know which of the following sentences, both found in the same British online newspaper in 2003, would be considered incorrect according to standard British and American usage, and why? Colchester police has also queried the proposal. Colchester police have launched a new tough approach […]

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 […]

Keeping it short and tweet

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 […]

-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. […]

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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Does English have a subjunctive?

Wordle

Many creatures on earth are able to communicate with each other in various ways. Dogs wag their tails when they are happy, and cats purr. Bees can tell each other in which direction to search for nectar. What bees can’t say… However, animal communication is very limited. For example, bees can only communicate to other […]

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