CONTENTS Table of Contents
Title Page TITLE
Edition Notice EDITION
Table of Contents CONTENTS
Grammatical Terms Used in This Book FRONT_2
Word Formation 1.0
-ability and -ibility 1.2
-able and -ible 1.3
ae and oe 1.4
American spelling 1.5
ante- and anti- 1.6
-ant or ant 1.7
a or an 1.8
-ative or -ive 1.9
by- prefix 1.10
c and ck 1.11
capital or small initials 1.12
-cede or -ceed 1.13
-ce or -se 1.14
co- prefix 1.15
doubling of final consonant 1.16
dropping of silent -e 1.17
-efy or -ify 1.18
-ei or -ie- 1.19
en- or in- 1.20
-er and -est 1.21
-erous or -rous 1.22
final vowels before suffixes 1.23
for- and fore- 1.24
f to v 1.25
-ful suffix 1.26
-ified or -yfied 1.28
in- or un- 1.29
i to y 1.30
-ize and -ise 1.31
l and ll 1.32
-or and -er 1.35
-our or -or 1.37
past of verbs, formation of 1.38
plural formation 1.39
possessive case 1.40
-re or -er 1.41
re- prefix 1.42
silent final consonants 1.43
-s suffix 1.44
-xion or -ction 1.45
-y, -ey, or -ie nouns 1.46
-y or -ey adjectives 1.47
y or i 1.48
-yse or -yze 1.49
y to i 1.50
Difficult and confusable spellings 1.51
A. General points of pronunciation 2.1
American pronunciation 2.4
-edly, -edness 2.7
pn-, ps-, pt- 2.20
reduced forms 2.22
s, sh, z and zh 2.23
B. Preferred pronunciations 2.31
adverbial relative clauses 4.1
adverbs without -ly 4.2
article, omission of 4.3
as, case following 4.4
as if, as though 4.5
auxiliary verbs 4.6
but, case following 4.7
can and may 4.8
collective nouns 4.9
comparison of adjectives and adverbs 4.10
compound subject 4.12
correlative conjunctions 4.14
double passive 4.16
either (pronoun) 4.18
gender of indefinite expressions 4.19
group possessive 4.20
he who, she who 4.22
-ics, nouns in 4.23
infinitive, present or perfect 4.24
-ing (gerund and participle) 4.25
I or me, we or us, etc. 4.26
I should or I would 4.27
I who, you who, etc. 4.28
-lily adverbs 4.30
may or might 4.31
measurement, nouns of 4.32
neither (pronoun) 4.35
none (pronoun) 4.36
preposition at end 4.39
quantity, nouns of 4.40
reflexive pronouns 4.41
relative clauses 4.42
shall and will 4.43
should and would 4.44
singular or plural 4.45
split infinitive 4.46
-s plural or singular 4.47
subjects joined by (either...) or 4.48
than, case following 4.50
that (conjunction), omission of 4.51
that (relative pronoun), omission of 4.52
there is or there are 4.53
unattached phrases 4.55
used to 4.56
way, relative clause following 4.57
were or was 4.58
we (with phrase following) 4.59
what (relative pronoun) 4.60
which or that (relative pronouns) 4.61
who and whom (interrogative and relative pronouns) 4.62
who or which (relative pronouns) 4.63
whose or of which in relative clauses 4.64
who/whom or that (relative pronouns) 4.65
you and I or you and me 4.66
Appendix A. Principles of Punctuation A.0
exclamation mark A.6
full stop A.7
question mark A.11
quotation marks A.12
square brackets A.14
Appendix B. Clich‚s and Modish and Inflated Diction B.0
Appendix C. English Overseas C.0
1. The United States C.1
2. Canada C.2
3. Australia and New Zealand C.3
4. South Africa C.4
It is one thing to use language; it is quite another to
understand how it works.
(Anthony Burgess, Joysprick)
English usage is a subject as wide as the English language itself. By far
the greater part of usage, however, raises no controversies and poses no
problems for native speakers of English, just because it is their natural
idiom. But there are certain limited areas --particular sounds, spellings,
words, and constructions--about which there arises uncertainty,
difficulty, or disagreement. The proper aim of a usage guide is to resolve
these problems, rather than describe the whole of current usage.
The Oxford Guide to English Usage has this aim. Within the limits just
indicated, it offers guidance in as clear, concise, and systematic a
manner as possible. In effecting its aims it makes use of five special
features, explained below.
1. Layout. In the Guide the subject of usage is divided into four fields:
word formation, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Each field is
covered by a separate section of the book, and each of the four
sections has its own alphabetical arrangement of entries. Each entry
is headed by its title in bold type. All the words that share a
particular kind of spelling, sound, or construction can therefore be
treated together. This makes for both economy and comprehensiveness
of treatment. Note that Pronunciation is in two parts: A deals with
the pronunciation of particular letters, or groups of letters, while B
is an alphabetical list of words whose pronunciation gives trouble.
2. Explanation. The explanations given in each entry are intended to be
simple and straightforward. Where the subject is inevitably slightly
complicated, they begin by setting out familiar facts as a basis from
which to untangle the complexities. The explanations take into account
the approaches developed by modern linguistic analysis, but employ the
traditional terms of grammar as much as possible. (A glossary of all
grammatical terms used will be found in FRONT_2. Technical symbols
and abbreviations, and the phonetic alphabet, are not used at all.
3. Exemplification. Throughout Vocabulary and Grammar and where
appropriate elsewhere, example sentences are given to illustrate the
point being discussed. The majority of these are real, rather than
invented, examples. Many of them have been drawn from the works of
some of the best twentieth-century writers (many equally good writers
happen not to have been quoted). Even informal or substandard usage
has been illustrated in this way; such examples frequently come from
speeches put into the mouths of characters in novels, and hence no
censure of the style of the author is implied. The aim is to
illustrate the varieties of usage and to display the best, thereby
making it more memorable than a mere collection of lapses and
solecisms would be able to do.
4. Recommendation. Recommendations are clearly set out. The blob ° is
used in the most clear-cut cases where a warning, restriction, or
prohibition is stated. The square Ь is occasionally employed where no
restriction needs to be enforced. The emphasis of the recommendations
is on the degree of acceptability in standard English of a particular
use, rather than on a dogmatic distinction of right and wrong. Much
that is sometimes condemned as 'bad English' is better regarded as
appropriate in informal contexts but inappropriate in formal ones. The
appropriateness of usage to context is indicated by the fairly rough
categories 'formal' and 'informal', 'standard', 'regional', and
'non-standard', 'jocular', and so on. Some of the ways in which
American usage differs from British are pointed out.
5. Reference. Ease of access to the entry sought by the user is a
priority of the Guide. The division into four sections, explained
above, means that (roughly speaking) only a quarter of the total range
of pages need be looked through in order to find a particular entry.
Within each section there are many cross-references to other entries;
hypertext links are provided for these entries.
In addition to the four main sections described at 1 above, the Guide
has three appendices: A is an outline of the principles of
punctuation; B lists some of the cliches and overworked diction most
widely disliked at present; and C gives a brief description of the
characteristics of the five major overseas varieties of English.
Concise as it is, the Guide may be found by individual users to cover some
ground that is already familiar and some that they consider it unnecessary
to know about. It is impossible for an entry (especially in the field of
grammar) not to include more facts than are strictly part of the question
which the entry is designed to answer. Language is a closely woven,
seamless fabric, not a set of building blocks or pigeon-holes, capable of
independent treatment; hence there are bound to be some redundancies and
some overlap between different entries. Moreover, every user has a
different degree of knowledge and interest. It is the compiler's hope,
however, that all will be instructed and enriched by any incidental gains
in understanding of the language that the use of this Guide may afford.
FRONT_2 Grammatical Terms Used in This Book
absolute used independently of its customary grammatical relationship or
construction, e.g. Weather permitting, I will come.
acronym a word formed from the initial letters of other words, e.g.
active applied to a verb whose subject is also the source of the action
of the verb, e.g. We saw him; opposite of passive.
adjective a word that names an attribute, used to describe a noun or
pronoun, e.g. small child, it is small.
adverb a word that modifies an adjective, verb, or another adverb,
expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner,
cause, degree, etc., e.g. gently, accordingly, now, here, why.
a noun denoting the doer of an action e.g. builder.
a suffix added to a verb to form an agent noun, e.g. -er.
agree to have the same grammatical number, gender, case, or person as
analogy the formation of a word, derivative, or construction in
imitation of an existing word or pattern.
animate denoting a living being.
a noun or phrase to which a relative pronoun refers back.
last but two.
antonym a word of contrary meaning to another.
the placing of a word, especially a noun, syntactically parallel
to another, e.g. William the Conqueror.
article a/an (indefinite article) or the (definite article).
designating a noun, adjective, or phrase expressing an
attribute, characteristically preceding the word it qualifies,
e.g. old in the old dog; opposite of predicative.
a verb used in forming tenses, moods, and voices of other verbs.
case the form (subjective, objective, or possessive) of a noun or
pronoun, expressing relation to some other word.
clause a distinct part of a sentence including a subject (sometimes by
implication) and predicate.
a singular noun denoting many individuals; see "collective
nouns" in topic 4.9
an expression consisting of two (or more) words frequently
juxtaposed, especially adjective + noun.
the form of an adjective or adverb expressing a higher degree of
a quality, e.g. braver, worse.
the differentiation of the comparative and superlative degrees
from the positive (basic) form of an adjective or adverb.
a word or words necessary to complete a grammatical
construction: the complement of a clause, e.g. John is (a)
thoughtful (man), Solitude makes John thoughtful; of an
adjective, e.g. John is glad of your help; of a preposition,
e.g. I thought of John.
a preposition made up of more than one word, e.g. with regard
concord agreement between words in gender, number, or person, e.g. the
girl who is here, you who are alive, Those men work.
designating (1) a clause which expresses a condition, or (2) a
mood of the verb used in the consequential clause of a
conditional sentence, e.g. (1) If he had come, (2) I should have
consonant (1) a speech sound in which breath is at least partly
obstructed, combining with a vowel to form a syllable; (2) a
letter usually used to represent (1); e.g. ewe is written with
vowel + consonant + vowel, but is pronounced as consonant (y) +
the linking of two or more parts of a compound sentence that are
equal in importance, e.g. Adam delved and Eve span.
co-ordination by means of pairs of corresponding words regularly
used together, e.g. either..or.
countable designating a noun that refers in the singular to one and in the
plural to more than one, and can be qualified by a, one, every,
etc. and many, two, three, etc.; opposite of mass (noun).
denoting a word describing a small, liked, or despised specimen
of the thing denoted by the corresponding root word, e.g.
ringlet, Johnny, princeling.
diphthong see digraph.
the object that expresses the primary object of the action of
the verb, e.g. He sent a present to his son.
having two syllables.
see "double passive" in topic 4.16.
elide to omit by elision.
elision the omission of a vowel or syllable in pronouncing, e.g. let's.
ellipsis the omission from a sentence of words needed to complete a
construction or sense.
feminine the gender proper to female beings.
finite designating (part of) a verb limited by person and number, e.g.
I am, He comes.
formal designating the type of English used publicly for some serious
purpose, either in writing or in public speeches.
future the tense of a verb referring to an event yet to happen: simple
future, e.g. I shall go; future in the past, referring to an
event that was yet to happen at a time prior to the time of
speaking, e.g. He said he would go.
gerund the part of the verb which can be used like a noun, ending in
-ing, e.g. What is the use of my scolding him?
govern (said of a verb or preposition) to have (a noun or pronoun, or a
case) dependent on it.
see "double passive" in topic 4.16.
hard designating a letter, chiefly c or g, that indicates a guttural
sound, as in cot or got.
if-clause a clause introduced by if.
the mood of a verb expressing command, e.g. Come here!
inanimate opposite of animate.
the person or thing affected by the action of the verb but not
primarily acted upon, e.g. I gave him the book.
the basic form of a verb that does not indicate a particular
tense or number or person; the to-infinitive, used with
preceding to, e.g. I want to know; the bare infinitive, without
preceding to, e.g. Help me pack.
inflexion a part of a word, usually a suffix, that expresses grammatical
relationship, such as number, person, tense, etc.
informal designating the type of English used in private conversation,
personal letters, and popular public communication.
designating a verb that does not take a direct object, e.g. I
see item 2 in topic 2.21
linking r see "r" in topic 2.21.
loan-word a word adopted by one language from another.
the principal clause of a sentence.
masculine the gender proper to male beings.
mass noun a noun that refers to something regarded as grammatically
indivisible, treated only as singular, and never qualified by
those, many, two, three, etc.; opposite of countable noun.
modal relating to the mood of a verb; used to express mood.
mood form of a verb serving to indicate whether it is to express
fact, command, permission, wish, etc.
having one syllable.
nominal designating a phrase or clause that is used like a noun, e.g.
What you need is a drink.
a word coined for one occasion.
designating (a part of) a verb not limited by person and number,
e.g. the infinitive, gerund, or participle.
see relative clauses.
noun a word used to denote a person, place, or thing.
a phrase functioning within the sentence as a noun, e.g. The one
over there is mine.
object a noun or its equivalent governed by an active transitive verb,
e.g. I will take that one.
objective the case of a pronoun typically used when the pronoun is the
object of a verb or governed by a preposition, e.g. me, him.
paradigm the complete pattern of inflexion of a noun, verb, etc.
the part of a verb used like an adjective but retaining some
verbal qualities (tense and government of an object) and also
used to form compound verb forms: the present participle ends
in -ing, the past participle of regular verbs in -ed, e.g. While
doing her work she had kept the baby amused.
passive designating a form of the verb by which the verbal action is
attributed to the person or thing to whom it is actually
directed (i.e. the logical object is the grammatical subject),
e.g. He was seen by us; opposite of active.
past a tense expressing past action or state, e.g. I arrived
a tense expressing action already completed prior to the time of
speaking, e.g. I had arrived by then.
last but one.
perfect a tense denoting completed action or action viewed in relation
to the present; e.g. I have finished now; perfect infinitive,
e.g. He seems to have finished now.
a roundabout way of expressing something.
person one of the three classes of personal pronouns or verb-forms,
denoting the person speaking (first person), the person spoken
to (second person), and the person or thing spoken about (third
an expression consisting of a verb and an adverb (and
preposition), e.g. break down, look forward to.
phrase a group of words without a predicate, functioning like an
adjective, adverb, or noun.
plural denoting more than one.
having more than one syllable.
the case of a noun or a pronoun indicating possession, e.g.
John's; possessive pronoun, e.g. my, his.
predicate the part of a clause consisting of what is said of the subject,
including verb + complement or object.
designating (especially) an adjective that forms part or the
whole of the predicate, e.g. The dog is old.
prefix a verbal element placed at the beginning of a word to qualify
its meaning, e.g. ex-, non-.
a word governing a noun or pronoun, expressing the relation of
the latter to other words, e.g. seated at the table.
a phrase consisting of a preposition and its complement, e.g. I
am surprised at your reaction.
present a tense expressing action now going on or habitually performed
in past and future, e.g. He commutes daily.
pronoun a word used instead of a noun to designate (without naming) a
person or thing already known or indefinite, e.g. I, you, he,
etc., anyone, something, etc.
a name used to designate an individual person, animal, town,
qualify (of an adjective or adverb) to attribute some quality to (a noun
reflexive implying the subject's action on himself or itself; reflexive
pronoun e.g. myself, yourself, etc.
relative see "relative clauses" in topic 4.42.
see relative clauses
semivowel a sound intermediate between vowel and consonant, e.g. the
sound of y and w.
an adverb that qualifies or comments on the whole sentence, not
one of the elements in it, e.g. Unfortunately, he missed his
singular denoting a single person or thing.
soft designating a letter, chiefly c or g, that indicates a sibilant
sound, as in city or germ.
see "split infinitive" in topic 4.46.
stem the essential part of a word to which inflexions and other
suffixes are added, e.g. unlimited.
stress the especially heavy vocal emphasis falling on one (the
stressed) syllable of a word more than on the others.
subject the element in a clause (usually a noun or its equivalent) about
which something is predicated (the latter is the predicate).
the case of a pronoun typically used when the pronoun is the
subject of a clause.
the mood of a verb denoting what is imagined, wished, or
possible, e.g. I insist that it be finished.
a clause dependent on the main clause and functioning like a
noun, adjective, or adverb within the sentence, e.g. He said
that you had gone.
the verb do used in place of another verb, e.g. 'He likes
chocolate.' 'Does he?'
suffix a verbal element added at the end of a word to form a
derivative, e.g. -ation, -ing, -itis, -ize.
the form of an adjective or adverb expressing the highest or a
very high degree of a quality, e.g. bravest, worst.
synonym a word identical in sense and use with another.
designating a verb that takes a direct object, e.g. I said
(especially in a conditional sentence) a condition which will
not be or has not been fulfilled.
designating a word, syllable, or vowel not having stress.
variant a form of a word etc. that differs in spelling or pronunciation
from another (often the main or usual) form.
verb a part of speech that predicates.
vowel (1) an open speech sound made without audible friction and
capable of forming a syllable with or without a consonant; (2) a
letter usually used to represent (1), e.g. a, e, i, o, u.
a convenient term for the interrogative and relative words, most
beginning with wh: what, when, where, whether, which, who, whom,
COD The Concise Oxford Dictionary (edn. 7, Oxford, 1982)
Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers (edn. 39, Oxford, 1983)
MEU H. W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (edn. 2,
revised by Sir Ernest Gowers, Oxford, 1965)
NEB The New English Bible (Oxford and Cambridge, 1970)
ODWE The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Oxford, 1981)
OED The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford, 1933) and its
supplementary volumes, A-G (1972); H-N (1976); O-Scz (1982).
TLS The Times Literary Supplement
1.0 Word Formation
This section is concerned with the ways in which the forms of English
words and word elements change or vary. It deals primarily with their
written form, but in many cases the choice between two or more possible
written forms is also a choice between the corresponding spoken forms.
What follows is therefore more than merely a guide to spelling, although
it is that too. A great part is taken up with guidance on the way in which
words change when they are inflected (e.g. the possessive case and plural
of nouns, the past tense and past participle of verbs) or when
derivational prefixes and suffixes are added (e.g. the adjectival -able
and -ible suffixes, the adverbial -ly suffix). Because this is intended
as a very basic outline, little space has been given to the description of
the meanings and uses of the inflected and compounded forms of words.
Instead, the emphasis is on the identification of the correct, or most
widely acceptable, written form. Particular attention is given to the
dropping, doubling, and alteration of letters when derivatives are formed.
Space has also been given to problems of spelling that are not caused by
derivation, especially the different ways of spelling the same sound in
different words (e.g. y or i in cider, cipher, gypsy, pygmy, etc.). A
comprehensive coverage of all words requiring hyphens or capitals would
require more space than is available here. The entries for these two
subjects attempt only to offer guidelines in certain difficult but
identifiable cases. For a fuller treatment the reader is referred to the
Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors and Hart's Rules for Compositors
and Readers. Wherever possible, notes are added to indicate where the
conventions of American spelling differ from those recommended here.
In cases where there is widespread variation in the spelling of a
particular word or form, the spelling recommended here is that preferred
It is usual to indicate an abbreviation by placing a point (full stop)
after it, e.g.
H. G. Wells, five miles S. (= south), B.Litt., Kt., Sun. (=
Sunday), Jan. (= January), p. 7 (= page 7), ft., in., lb., cm.
However, no point is necessary:
1. With a sequence of capitals alone, e.g. BBC, MA, QC, NNE, BC, AD, PLC
(and not, of course, with acronyms, e.g. Aslef, Naafi).
2. With the numerical abbreviations 1st, 2nd, etc.
3. C, F (of temperature), chemical symbols, and measures of length,
weight, time, etc. in scientific and technical use.
4. Dr, Revd, Mr, Mrs, Ms, Mme, Mlle, St, Hants, Northants, p (= penny or
5. In words that are colloquial abbreviations, e.g. co-op, demo, recap,
1.2 -ability and -ibility
Nouns ending in these suffixes undergo the same changes in the stem as
adjectives in -able and -ible (see next entry).
1.3 -able and -ible
Words ending in -able generally owe their form to the Latin termination
-abilis or the Old French -able (or both), and words in -ible to the Latin
-ibilis. The suffix -able is also added to words of 'distinctly French or
English origin' (OED, s.v. -ble), and as a living element to English
A. Words ending in -able. The following alterations are made to the stem:
1. Silent final -e is dropped (see "dropping of silent -e" in topic 1.17).
Exceptions: words whose stem ends in -ce, -ee, -ge, -le, and the
4. Most verbs of more than two syllables ending in -ate drop this ending
when forming adjectives in -able, e.g. alienable, calculable,
demonstrable, etc. Verbs of two syllables ending in -ate form adjectives
in -able regularly, e.g. creatable, debatable, dictatable, etc.
For a list of -able words, see Hart's Rules, pp. 83-4.
B. Words ending in -ible. These are fewer, since -ible is not a living
suffix. Below is a list of the commonest. Almost all form their negative
in in-, il-, etc., so that the negative form can be inferred from the
positive in the list below; the exceptions are indicated by (un).
1.4 ae and oe
In words derived from Latin and Greek, these are now always written as
separate letters, not as ligatures ‘, oe, e.g. aeon, Caesar, gynaecology;
diarrhoea, homoeopathy, Oedipus. The simple e is preferable in several
words once commonly spelt with ae, oe, especially medieval ( formerly with
ae) and ecology, ecumenical (formerly with initial oe).
° In Amer. spelling, e replaces ae, oe in many words, e.g. gynecology,
1.5 American spelling
Differences between Amer. and British spelling are mentioned at the
"-able and -ible" in topic 1.3;
"ae and oe" in topic 1.4;
"-ce or -se" in topic 1.14;
"doubling of final consonant" in topic 1.16;
"dropping of silent -e" in topic 1.17;
"hyphens" in topic 1.27;
"l and ll" in topic 1.32;
"-oul-" in topic 1.36;
"-our or -or" in topic 1.37;
"past of verbs, formation of" in topic 1.38;
"-re or -er" in topic 1.41;
"-xion or -ction" in topic 1.45;
"-yse or -yze" in topic 1.49.
See also "Difficult and confusable spellings" in topic 1.51 passim.
1.6 ante- and anti-
Before -ism, -ist, -ity, and -ize c (chiefly occurring in the suffix -ic)
remains and is pronounced soft, e.g. Anglicism, physicist, domesticity,
1.12 capital or small initials
There are four classes of word that especially give trouble.
A. Compass points. Use capitals:
1. When abbreviated, e.g. NNE for north-north-east.
2. When denoting a region, e.g. unemployment in the North.
3. When part of a geographical name with recognized status, e.g.
Northern Ireland, East Africa, Western Australia.
4. In Bridge.
Otherwise use small initials, e.g. facing (the) south, the wind was south,
southbound, a southeaster.
B. Parties, denominations, and organizations.
'The general rule is: capitalization makes a word more specific and
limited in its reference: contrast a Christian scientist (man of science)
and a Christian Scientist (member of the Church of Christ Scientist).'
(Hart's Rules, pp. 10-11.)
So, for example, Conservative, Socialist, Democratic (names of parties);
Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Congregational; but conservative, socialist,
democratic (as normal adjectives), catholic sympathies, orthodox views,
C. Words derived from proper names.
When connection with the proper name is indirect (the meaning associated
with or suggested by the proper name), use a small initial letter, e.g.
° Adjectives of nationality usually retain the capital even when used in
transferred senses, e.g. Dutch courage, go Dutch, Russian salad, Turkish
delight. The chief exceptions are arabic (numeral), roman (numeral,
D. Proprietary names.
The name of a product or process, if registered as a trade mark, is a
proprietary name, and should be given a capital initial, e.g. Araldite,
Coca-Cola, Marmite, Olivetti, Pyrex, Quaker Oats, Vaseline, Xerox.
1.13 -cede or -ceed
Exceed, proceed, succeed; the other verbs similarly formed have -cede,
e.g. concede, intercede, recede. Note also supersede.
1.14 -ce or -se
Advice, device, licence, and practice are nouns; the related verbs are
spelt with -se: advise, devise, license, practise. Similarly prophecy
(noun), prophesy (verb).
° Amer. spelling favours licence, practice for both noun and verb; but the
nouns defence, offence, pretence are spelt with c in Britain, s in
a. Words ending in -ce and -ge retain the e to indicate the softness
of the consonant, e.g. bridgeable, peaceable.
b. In a number of -able adjectives, e is retained in order to make
the root word more easily recognizable. See list on "-able and
-ible" in topic 1.3
c. ee is retained, e.g. agreeable, feeable, foreseeable.
d. The few adjectives formed on verbs ending in consonant + -le; e.g.
3. Before -age, e.g. cleavage, dotage, linage (number of lines).
Exceptions: acreage, mileage.
4. Before -ing, e.g. centring, fatiguing, housing, manoeuvreing. With
change of i to y: dying, lying, etc. (See "i to y" in topic 1.30).
b. blueing, cueing (gluing, issuing, queuing, etc. are regular).
c. ageing (raging, staging, etc. are regular).
d. routeing, singeing, swingeing, tingeing are distinguished from
routing 'putting to flight', singing, swinging, and tinging
5. Before -ish, e.g.
bluish nicish roguish
latish purplish whitish
6. Before -y, e.g.
bony chancy mousy
caky cliquy stagy
Exceptions: See "-y or -ey adjectives" in topic 1.47
B. When a suffix beginning with a consonant (e.g. -ful, -ling, -ly, -ment,
-ness, -some) is added to a word ending in silent -e, the -e is retained,
abridgement definitely judgement (judgment
acknowledgement fledgeling often in legal works)
amazement houseful useful
1.20 en- or in-
The following pairs of words can give trouble:
encrust (verb) incrustation
engrain (verb) to dye in ingrain (adjective) dyed in
the raw state the yarn
ingrained deeply rooted
enquire ask inquire undertake a formal investigation
enquiry question inquiry official investigation
ensure make sure insure take out insurance (against risk:
note assurance of life)
1.21 -er and -est
These suffixes of comparison may require the following changes in
1. Doubling of final consonant (see "doubling of final consonant" in
2. Dropping of silent -e (see "dropping of silent -e" in topic 1.17).
3. Y to i (see "y to i" in topic 1.50).
1.22 -erous or -rous
The ending -erous is normal in adjectives related to nouns ending in -er,
e.g. murderous, slanderous, thunderous. The exceptions are:
1.24 for- and fore-
The prefix for- means 'away, out, completely, or implies prohibition or
abstention' (MEU). Fore- is the same as the ordinary word so spelt, =
'beforehand, in front'.
forbear refrain forebear ancestor
forgo abstain from forego (esp. in foregoing (list),
1.25 f to v
Certain nouns that end in f or f followed by silent e change this f to v
in some derivatives. Most are familiar, but with a few derivatives there
is variation between f and v or uncertainty about which consonant is
correct; only these are dealt with below.
beef: plural beeves oxen, beefs kinds of beef.
calf (young bovine animal): calfish calflike; calves-foot jelly.
calf (of leg): (enormously)calved having (enormous) calves.
corf (basket): plural corves.
dwarf: plural dwarfs. ° Dwarves only in J. R. R. Tolkien's writings.
elf: elfish and elvish are both acceptable;
elfin but elven.
handkerchief: plural handkerchiefs.
hoof: plural usually hoofs, but hooves is commonly found, e.g.
The useless tool for horses' hooves (Graham Greene);
Listening for Sebastian's retreating hooves
(Evelyn Waugh); adjective hoofed or hooved.
knife: verb knife.
leaf: leaved having leaves (broad- leaved etc.)
but leafed as past of leaf (through a book, etc.).
life: lifelong lasting a lifetime; livelong
(day, etc., poetic: the i is short);
the plural of still life is still lifes.
oaf: plural oafs.
roof: plural roofs. ° Rooves is
commonly heard and sometimes written, e.g. Several acres of
bright red rooves(George Orwell). Its written
use should be avoided.
scarf (garment): plural scarves;
scarfed wearing a scarf.
scarf (joint): plural and verb keep f.
sheaf: plural sheaves; verb sheaf or
sheave; sheaved made into a sheaf.
shelf: plural shelves; shelvy having sandbanks.
staff: plural staffs but archaic and musical staves.
turf: plural turfs or turves; verb turf; turfy.
wharf: plural wharfs or wharves.
wolf: wolfish of a wolf.
A. Hyphens are used to connect words that are more closely linked to each
other than to the surrounding syntax. Unfortunately their use is not
consistent. Some pairs or groups of words are written as a single word
(e.g. motorway, railwayman), others, despite their equally close bond, as
separate words (e.g. motor cycle, pay phone); very similar pairs may be
found with a hyphen (e.g. motor-cyclist, pay-bed). There are no hard and
fast rules that will predict in every case whether a group of words should
be written as one, with a hyphen, or separately. Useful lists can be
found in Hart's Rules, pp. 76-81; numerous individual items are entered in
1. Groups consisting of attributive noun + noun are probably the most
unpredictable. It is the nature of English syntax to produce
limitless numbers of groups of this kind. Such a group generally
remains written as separate words until it is recognized as a lexical
item with a special meaning, when it may receive a hyphen. Eventually
it may be written as one word, but this usually happens when the two
nouns are monosyllabic and there is no clash between the final letter
of the first and the first letter of the second.
This generalization is, however, a very weak guide to what happens in
practice. Compare, for example, coal tar, coal-face, coalfield; oil
well, oil-painting, oilfield; blood cell, blood-pressure, bloodstream.
2. Nouns derived from phrasal verbs, consisting of verb + adverb, are
slightly more predictable. They are never written as two words,
frequently hyphened, and sometimes written as one, e.g. fall-out,
play-off, set-back, turn-out; feedback, layout, runoff, turnover.
Phrases consisting of agent-noun in -er + adverb are usually hyphened,
e.g. picker-up, runner-up; those consisting of gerund in -ing + adverb
are usually left as two words, e.g. Your coming back so soon surprised
me, unless they have become a unit with a special meaning, e.g. Gave
him a going-over.
3. Various collocations which are not hyphened when they play their
normal part in the sentence are given hyphens when they are
transferred to attributive position before a noun, e.g.
a. adjective + noun: a common-sense argument (but This is common
sense), an open-air restaurant (but eating in the open air).
b. preposition + noun: an out-of-date aircraft (but This is out of
date), an in-depth interview (but interviewing him in depth).
c. participle + adverb: The longed-for departure and Tugged-at leaves
and whirling branches (Iris Murdoch) (but the departure greatly
longed for; leaves tugged at by the wind).
d. other syntactic groups used attributively, e.g. A tremendous
wrapping-up-and-throwing-away gesture (J. B. Priestley); An
all-but-unbearable mixture (Lynne Reid Banks).
4. Collocations of adverb + adjective (or participle) are usually written
as two words when attributive as well as when predicative, e.g. a less
interesting topic, an amazingly good performance, but may very
occasionally take a hyphen to avoid misunderstanding, e.g. Sir Edgar,
who had heard one or two more-sophisticated rumours (Angus Wilson)
(this does not mean 'one or two additional sophisticated rumours').
See also well.
5. When two words that form a close collocation but are not normally
joined by a hyphen enter into combination with another word that
requires a hyphen, it may be necessary to join them with a hyphen as
well in order to avoid an awkward or even absurd result, e.g. natural
gas needs no hyphen in natural gas pipeline, but natural- gas-producer
may be preferred to the ambiguous natural gas-producer; crushed ice +
-making looks odd in crushed ice-making machine, and so
crushed-ice-making machine may be preferred. Occasionally a real
distinction in meaning may be indicated, e.g. The non-German-speakers
at the conference used interpreters versus The non-German speakers at
the conference were all Austrians. Many people, however, prefer to
avoid the use of long series of hyphened words.
6. A group of words that has been turned into a syntactic unit, often
behaving as a different part of speech from the words of which it is
composed, normally has hyphens, e.g. court-martial (verb),
happy-go-lucky (adjective), good-for-nothing, stick-in-the-mud,
7. A hyphen is used to indicate a common second element in all but the
last word of a list, e.g. two-, three-, or fourfold.
B. Hyphens are also used within the word to connect a prefix or suffix to
the stem. With most prefixes and suffixes it is normal to write the whole
compound as a single word; the use of the hyphen is exceptional, and the
writing of prefix or suffix and stem as two words virtually unknown.
The hyphen is used in the following cases:
1. After a number of prefixes that are considered to be living formative
elements, i.e. prefixes that can be freely used to form new compounds:
ex- (formerly), e.g. ex-President; neo- (denoting a revived movement),
e.g. neo-Nazism; non-, e.g. non-stick; pro- ( = in favour of), e.g.
pro-marketeer; self-, e.g. self-destructive.
2. After a number of prefixes to aid recognition of the second element,
e.g. anti-g, or to distinguish the compound from another word
identically spelt, e.g. un-ionized (as against unionized); see also
"co- prefix" in topic 1.15, "re- prefix" in topic 1.42.
3. Between a prefix ending with a vowel and a stem beginning with the
same vowel, e.g. de-escalate, pre-empt; see also "co- prefix" in
topic 1.15, "re- prefix" in topic 1.42.
4. Between a prefix and a stem beginning with a capital letter, e.g.
anti-Darwinian, hyper-Calvinism, Pre-Raphaelite.
5. With some living suffixes forming specially coined compounds, e.g.
Mickey Mouse-like; or still regarded to some extent as full words,
such as -wise (= as regards -), e.g. Weather-wise we have had a good
6. With suffixes in irregularly formed compounds, e.g. unget-at-able.
7. With the suffix -like after a stem ending in -l, e.g. eel-like, when
attached to a word of two or more syllables, e.g. cabbage-like, and
with the suffix -less after a stem ending in double -l, e.g.
Note: In Amer. spelling there is a greater tendency than in British
spelling to write compounds as one word, rather than hyphened, e.g.
nonplaying, nonprofit, roundhouse, runback, sandlot.
1.28 -ified or -yfied
-ified is usual, whatever the stem of the preceding element, e.g.
1.29 in- or un-
There is no comprehensive set of rules governing the choice between these
two negative prefixes. The following guidelines are offered. Note that
in- takes the form of il-, im-, or ir- before initial l, m, or r.
1. in- is from Latin and properly belongs to words derived from Latin,
whereas un-, as a native prefix, has a natural ability to combine with
any English word. Hence
a. un- may be expected to spread to words originally having in-. This
has happened when the in- word has developed a sense more specific
than merely the negative of the stem word:
1.30 i to y
When the suffix -ing is added to words (chiefly verbs) that end in -ie, e
is dropped (see "dropping of silent -e" in topic 1.17), and i becomes y,
dying lying tying vying
Exceptions: hie, sortie, stymie make hieing, sortieing, stymieing.
1.31 -ize and -ise
-ize should be preferred to -ise as a verbal ending in words in which both
are in use.
1. The choice arises only where the ending is pronounced eyes, not where
it is ice, iss or eez. So: precise, promise, expertise, remise.
2. The choice applies only to the verbal suffix (of Greek origin), added
to nouns and adjectives with the sense 'make into, treat with, or act
in the way of (that which is indicated by the stem word)'.
3. In most cases, -ize verbs are formed on familiar English stems, e.g.
authorize, familiarize, symbolize; or with a slight alteration to the
stem, e.g. agonize, dogmatize, sterilize. A few words have no such
immediate stem: aggrandize (cf. aggrandizement), appetize (cf.
appetite), baptize (cf. baptism), catechize (cf. catechism), recognize
(cf. recognition); and capsize.
1.32 l and ll
Whether to write a single or double l can be a problem in the following
1. Where a suffix is added to single final l: see "doubling of final
consonant" in topic 1.16.
2. l is single when it is the last letter of the following verbs:
The suffix -ly is added to words (mainly nouns and adjectives) to form
adjectives and adverbs, e.g. earth, earthly; part, partly; sad, sadly.
With certain words one of the following spelling changes may be required:
1. If the word ends in double ll, add only -y, e.g. fully, shrilly.
2. If the word ends in consonant + le, change e to y, e.g. ably, singly,
Exception: supplely (distinguished from the noun and verb supply).
3. If the word ends in consonant + y, change y to i and add -ly, e.g.
Exceptions: shyly, slyly, spryly, wryly.
4. If he word ends in unstressed -ey, change ey to i and add -ly, e.g.
5. If the word has more than one syllable and ends in -ic, add -ally,
even if there is no corresponding adjective in -ical, e.g. basically,
Exceptions: politicly (from the adjective politic, distinguished from
politically, from the adjective political), publicly ( ° not
6. Final -e is exceptionally dropped before -ly in duly, eerily, truly,
wholly (palely, puerilely, vilely, etc., are regular).
7. Final -y is exceptionally changed to i before -ly in daily, gaily
(greyly, coyly are regular).
As a suffix added to adjectives, it may require the change of y to i: see
"y to i" in topic 1.50
1.35 -or and -er
These two suffixes, denoting 'one who or that which performs (the action
of the verb)' are from Latin ( through French) and Old English
respectively, but their origin is not a sure guide to their distribution.
1. -er is the living suffix, forming most newly-coined agent nouns; but
-or is frequently used with words of Latin origin to coin technical
2. -er is usual after doubled consonants (except -ss-), after soft c and
g, after -i-, after ch and sh, and after -er, -graph, -ion, and -iz-,
Principal exceptions: counsellor, carburettor, conqueror.
3. -or follows -at- to form a suffix -ator, often but not always in words
related to verbs in -ate, e.g. duplicator, incubator.
Note: nouns in -olater, as idolater, do not contain the agent suffix.
4. No rule can predict whether a given word having -s-, -ss-, or -t-
(apart from -at-) before the suffix requires -or or -er. So
supervisor, compressor, prospector, but adviser, presser, perfecter.
-tor usually follows -c, unstressed i, and u, e.g. actor, compositor,
executor; -ter usually follows f, gh, l, r, and s, e.g. drifter,
fighter, defaulter, exporter, protester; but there are numerous
5. A functional distinction is made between -or and -er in the following:
accepter one who accepts acceptor (in scientific use)
adapter one who adapts adaptor electrical device
caster one who casts, castor beaver; plant giving oil;
casting machine sugar (sprinkler); wheel
censer vessel for incense censor official
conveyer one who conveys conveyor device
resister one who resists resistor electrical device
sailer ship of specified sailor seaman
6. A number of words have -er in normal use but -or in Law:
1.38 past of verbs, formation of
A. Regular verbs add -ed for the past tense and past participle, and may
make the following spelling changes:
1. Doubling of final consonant (see "doubling of final consonant" in
2. Dropping of silent -e (see "dropping of silent -e" in topic 1.17).
3. Change of y to i (see "y to i" in topic 1.50).
Note laid, paid, and said from lay, pay, and say.
B. A number of verbs vary in their past tense and past participle between
a regular form and a form with -t (and in some cases a different
vowel-sound in the stem):
The -t form is usual in Received Pronunciation (see Received Pronunciation
in topic 2.0) and should be written by those who pronounce it. The regular
form is usual in Amer. English.
Bereaved is regular when the reference is to the loss of relatives by
death; bereft is used when the reference is to loss of immaterial
Cleave is a rare word with two opposite meanings: (i) = stick; A man . .
shall cleave unto his wife (Genesis 2:24) (regular). (ii) = split; past
tense clave is archaic; clove, cleft, and regular cleaved are all
permissible, but cleaved is usual in scientific and technical contexts;
past participle, in fixed expressions, cloven-footed, cloven hoof, cleft
palate, cleft stick; cleaved is technical, but probably also best used
outside the fixed expressions.
° Earn is regular. There is no form earnt.
C. A number of verbs vary in the past participle only between the regular
form and one ending in -(e)n:
In most of these the latter form is to be preferred; in British English it
is obligatory when the participle is used attributively as an adjective.
So new-mown hay, a sawn-off (Amer. sawed-off) shotgun, shorn (not
sheared) of one's strength, a swollen gland; swollen or swelled head (=
conceit) is a colloquial exception.
D. The past tense has -a-, the past participle -u-, in
begin shrink stink
drink sing swim
° It is an error to use begun, drunk, etc. for the past tense, as if they
followed clung, flung, spun, etc.
E. The past tense and past participle of the following verbs can cause
abide (by) makes abided
alight makes alighted
bet: betted is increasingly common beside bet
bid (make a bid): bid
bid (command; say (goodnight, etc.)):
bid is usual (bade, bidden are archaic)
broadcast unchanged in past tense and past participle
chide: chided is now usual (older chid)
forecast unchanged in past tense and past participle
hang: hanged is frequent for the capital punishment;
otherwise only hung
knit: knitted is usual, but knit is common
in metaphorical use (he knit his brows)
light makes past lit, past participle lit
in predicative use (a fire was lit) but lighted
attributively (a lighted match)
quit makes quitted ° Amer. quit
reeve (nautical) makes rove
rid unchanged in past tense and past participle
speed makes sped but speeded in the senses
'cause to go at (a certain) speed' and 'travel
at illegal or dangerous speed'
spit makes spat ° Amer. spit
stave (to dent) staved or
stove; (to ward off) staved
sweat makes sweated ° Amer. sweat
thrive: thrived is increasingly common beside
Most nouns simply add -s, e.g. cats, dogs, horses, cameras.
A. The regular plural suffix -s is preceded by -e-:
1. After sibilant consonants, where ease of pronunciation requires a
separating vowel, i.e. after
ch: e.g. benches, coaches, matches (but not conchs, lochs,
stomachs where the ch has a different sound)
s: e.g. buses, gases, pluses, yeses (note that single s is not
sh: e.g. ashes, bushes
ss: e.g. grasses, successes
x: e.g. boxes, sphinxes
z: e.g. buzzes, waltzes (note quizzes with doubling of z)
Proper names follow the same rule, e.g. the Joneses, the Rogerses, the
° -es should not be replaced by an apostrophe, as the Jones'.
2. After -y (not preceded by a vowel), which changes to i, e.g. ladies,
Exceptions: proper names, e.g. the Willoughbys, the three Marys; also
trilbys, lay-bys, standbys, zlotys (Polish currency).
3. Compounds containing man or woman make both elements plural, as
usually do those made up of two words linked by and, e.g.
(a) gentlemen ushers women doctors
(b) pros and cons ups and downs
C. The plural of the following nouns with a singular in -s is unchanged:
biceps means species
congeries mews superficies
forceps series thrips
The following are mass nouns, not plurals:
bona fides (= 'good faith'), kudos
° The singulars bona-fide (as a noun; there is an adjective bona-fide),
congery, kudo, sometimes seen, are erroneous.
D. Plural of nouns of foreign origin. The terminations that may form their
plurals according to a foreign pattern are given in alphabetical order
below; to each is added a list of the words that normally follow this
pattern. It is recommended that the regular plural (in -s) should be used
for all the other words with these terminations, even though some are
found with either type of plural.
1. -a (Latin and Greek) becomes -ae:
alga lamina nebula
alumna larva papilla
Note: formula has -ae in mathematical and scientific use.
2. -eau, -eu (French) add -x:
beau chateau plateau
bureau milieu tableau
3. -ex, -ix (Latin) become -ices:
appendix cortex matrix
calix helix radix
Note: index, vortex have -ices in mathematical and scientific use
4. -is (Greek and Latin) becomes -es (pronounced eez):
Note: medium in scientific use, and in the sense 'a means of
communication' (as mass medium ) has plural in -a; the collective
plural of memorandum 'things to be noted' is in -a; rostrum has -a in
technical use; otherwise these words are regular. In the technical
sense 'starting-point' datum has a regular plural.
Note: focus has plural in -i in scientific use, but otherwise is
regular; genius has plural genii when used to mean 'guardian spirit',
but in its usual sense is regular; corpus, genus, opus become corpora,
° The following words of foreign origin are plural nouns; they should
normally not be construed as singulars (see also as separate entries in
bacteria graffiti phenomena
candelabra insignia regalia
criteria media strata
E. There is no need to use an apostrophe before -s:
1. After figures: the 1890s.
2. After abbreviations: MPs, SOSs.
But it is needed in: dot the i's and cross the t's, fair do's, do's and
1.40 possessive case
To form the possessive:
1. Normally, add -'s in the singular and -s' (i.e. apostrophe following
the plural suffix -s) in the plural, e.g.
Bill's book the Johnsons' dog
his master's voice a girls' school
Nouns that do not form plural in -s add -'s to the plural form, e.g.
children's books women's liberation
2. Nouns ending in s add 's for the singular possessive, e.g.
Burns's St James's Square
Father Christmas's Thomas's
To form the plural possessive, they add an apostrophe to the s of the
plural in the normal way, e.g.
bosses' the octopuses' tentacles
the Joneses' dog the Thomases' dog
French names ending in silent s or x add -'s, which is pronounced as
Dumas's (= Dumah's) Cr‚mieux's
Names ending in -es pronounced iz are treated like plurals and take
only an apostrophe (following the pronunciation, which is iz, not
Polysyllables not accented on the last or second last syllable can
take the apostrophe alone, but the form with -'s is equally
Barnabas' or Barnabas's
Nicholas' or Nicholas's
It is the custom in classical works to use the apostrophe only,
irrespective of pronunciation, for ancient classical names ending in
Jesus' 'is an accepted liturgical archaism' (Hart's Rules, p. 3l). But
in non-liturgical use, Jesus's is acceptable (used, e.g., in the NEB,
John 2: 3).
With the possessive preceding the word sake, be guided by the
for goodness' sake but for God's sake
for conscience' sake (!) for Charles's sake
After -x and -z, use -'s, e.g. Ajax's, Berlioz's music, Leibniz's
law, Lenz's law.
3. Expressions such as:
a fortnight's holiday two weeks' holiday
a pound's worth two pounds' worth
your money's worth
contain possessives and should have apostrophes correctly placed.
4. In I'm going to the butcher's, grocer's, etc. there is a possessive
with ellipsis of the word 'shop'. The same construction is used in I'm
going to Brown's, Green's, etc., so that properly an apostrophe is
called for. Where a business calls itself Brown, Green, or the like
(e.g. Marks and Spencer, J. Sainsbury) the apostrophe would be
expected before -s. But many businesses use the title Browns, Greens,
etc., without an apostrophe (e.g. Debenhams, Barclays Bank). No
apostrophe is necessary in a Debenhams store or in (go to or take to)
5. The apostrophe must not be used:
a. with the plural non-possessive -s: notices such as TEA'S are often
seen, but are wrong.
b. with the possessive of pronouns: hers, its, ours, theirs, yours;
the possessive of who is whose.
° it's = it is; who's = who is.
° There are no words her's, our's, their's, your's.
1.41 -re or -er
The principal words in which the ending -re (with the unstressed er
sound--there are others with the sound ruh, e.g. macabre, or ray, e.g.
padre) is found are:
accoutre centre louvre
* acre * euchre * lucre
amphitheatre fibre lustre
* cadre goitre manoeuvre
calibre litre * massacre
* meagre ochre sepulchre
* mediocre * ogre sombre
metre (note meter philtre sceptre
the measuring reconnoitre theatre
device) sabre titre
mitre spectre * wiseacre
° All but those marked * are spelt with -er in Amer. English.
A. As the inflexion of the plural of nouns: see plural formation.
B. As the inflexion of the third person singular present indicative of
verbs, it requires the same changes in the stem as the plural ending,
namely the insertion of -e-:
1. After sibilants (ch, s, sh, x, z), e.g. catches, tosses, pushes,
fixes, buzzes; note that single s and z are subject to doubling of
final consonant (see "doubling of final consonant" in topic 1.16)
though the forms in which they occur are rare, e.g. gasses,
nonplusses, quizzes, whizzes.
2. After y, which is subject to the change of y to i (see 1.50), e.g.
cries, flies, carries, copies.
3. After o: echo, go, torpedo, veto, like the corresponding nouns, insert
-e- before -s; crescendo, radio, solo, zero should follow their nouns
in having -s, but in practice there is variation.
1.45 -xion or -ction
Complexion, crucifixion, effluxion, fluxion, genuflexion, inflexion all
have -x-; connection, reflection (which formerly sometimes had -x-) have
-ct-; deflexion is increasingly being replaced by deflection.
° In Amer. spelling -ction is more usual in connection, deflection,
genuflection, inflection, reflection.
1.46 -y, -ey, or -ie nouns
The diminutive or pet form of nouns can be spelt -y, -ey, or -ie. The
majority of nouns which end in the sound of -y are so spelt (whether
diminutives or of other origin), e.g.
aunty granny nappy
baby missy potty
The following are the main diminutives spelt with -ey (-ey nouns of other
kinds are excluded from the list):
The following list contains the diminutives in -ie, together with a number
of similar nouns that are not in fact diminutives but do end in -ie. Note
that most Scottish diminutives are spelt with -ie, e.g. corbie, kiltie.
1.51 Difficult and confusable spellings
(not covered in previous entries)
The list below contains words (i) which occasion difficulty in spelling;
(ii) of which various spellings exist; or (iii) which need to be
distinguished from other words spelt similarly.
In each case the recommended form is given, and in some cases, for the
sake of clarity, is followed by the rejected variant. Where the rejected
variant is widely separated in alphabetical position from the recommended
form, the former has been given an entry preceded by the mark and followed
by 'use' and the recommended form. The wording added to some entries
constitutes a guide to the sense, not an exhaustive definition or
adaptation ° not adaption
° aerie: use eyrie
ait ° not eyot
align, alignment ° not aline, alinement
almanac (almanack only in some titles)
aluminium ° Amer. aluminum
ambiance (term in art)
amok ° not amuck
any one (of a number)
any way any manner
anyway at all events
apophthegm ° Amer. apothegm
ay yes (plural the ayes have it)
babu ° not baboo
bail out obtain release, relieve financially
bale out parachute from aircraft
balmy like balm
barmy (informal) mad
behove ° Amer. behoove
bivouac (noun and verb)
blond (of man or his hair)
blonde (of woman or her hair)
born: be born (of child)
borne: have borne have carried or given birth to; be borne be carried:
be borne by be carried by or given birth to by (a mother)
brier ° not briar
bur clinging seed
burr rough edge, drill, rock, accent, etc.
calliper leg support; (plural) compasses ° not caliper
canvas (noun) cloth
canvas (verb) to cover with canvas (past canvased)
For one thing, you speak quite differently from Roy. Now
mind you, I'm not saying that one kind of voice is better
than another kind, although ... the B.B.C. seems to have
very definite views on the subject.
(Marghanita Laski, The Village)
This section aims at resolving the uncertainty felt by many speakers both
about some of the general variations in the pronunciation of English, and
about a large number of individual words whose pronunciation is variable.
Accordingly, the section is in two parts: A, general points of
pronunciation, and B, a list of preferred pronunciations.
The aim of recommending one type of pronunciation rather than another, or
of giving a word a recommended spoken form, naturally implies the
existence of a standard. There are of course many varieties of English,
even within the limits of the British Isles, but it is not the business of
this section to describe them. The treatment here is based upon Received
Pronunciation (RP), namely 'the pronunciation of that variety of British
English widely considered to be least regional, being originally that used
by educated speakers in southern England'. (1) This is not to suggest that
other varieties are inferior; rather, RP is here taken as a neutral
national standard, just as it is in its use in broadcasting or in the
teaching of English as a foreign language.
(1) A Supplement to the OED, Volume 3
2.1 A. General points of pronunciation
This first part of Pronunciationis concerned with general variations and
uncertainties in pronunciation. Even when RP alone is taken as the model,
it is impossible to lay down a set of rules that will establish the
correct pronunciation of every word and hold it constant, since
pronunciation is continually changing. Some changes affect a particular
sound in its every occurrence throughout the vocabulary, while others
occur only in the environment of a few other sounds. Some changes occur
gradually and imperceptibly; some are limited to a section of the
community. At any time there is bound to be considerable variation in
pronunciation. One of the purposes of the entries that follow is to draw
attention to such variation and to indicate the degree of acceptability of
each variant in standard English. Uncertainty about pronunciation also
arises from the irregularity of English spelling. It is all too often
impossible to guess how a particular letter or group of letters in an
unfamiliar word should be pronounced. Broadly speaking, there are
particular letters and letter sequences which repeatedly cause such
uncertainty (e.g. g (hard and soft); final -ed; final -ade). To settle
these uncertainties is the other main purpose of the entries that follow.
The entries are arranged in alphabetical order of heading; the headings
are not, of course, complete words, but are either individual letters of
the alphabet or sequences of letters making up parts (usually the
beginnings or endings) of words. Some entries cover sounds that are spelt
in various ways: the heading given is the typical spelling. There are also
three entries of a different sort: they deal with (a) the main
distinguishing features of American pronunciation, (b) the reduction of
common words in rapid speech, and (c) patterns of stress.
1. There is variation in the pronunciation of a between the sound heard
in calm, father and that heard in cat, fan, in
a. the suffix -graph (in photograph, telegraph, etc.) and
b. the prefix trans- (as in transfer, translate, etc.).
a. In -graph, a as in calm seems to be the more generally acceptable
form in RP. Note that when the suffix - ic is added (e.g. in
photographic), only a as in cat can be used.
b. In trans-, either kind of a is acceptable.
2. The word endings -ada, -ade, and -ado occasion difficulty, since in
some words the pronunciation of the a is as in calm, in others as in
a. In -ada words, a is as in calm, e.g. armada, cicada.
b. In most -ade words, a is as in made, e.g. accolade, barricade,
Note that collage is stressed on the second syllable.
° The pronunciation of -age as in cabbage in any of these words is
non-standard. The placing of the stress on the final syllable in some of
these words is a feature of Amer. pronunciation.
ЬThe substitution of the sound of g as in large for that in r‚gime by some
speakers in several of these words is acceptable.
2.4 American pronunciation
Where the Amer. pronunciation of individual forms and words significantly
differs from the British, this is indicated as part of the individual
entries in this Section. There remain certain constant features of
'General American' (2) pronunciation that, being generally distributed,
are not worth noting for every word or form in which they occur. The
principal features are these:
1. r is sounded wherever it is written, i.e. after vowels finally and
before consonants, as well as before vowels, e.g. in burn, car, form.
2. The sound of I is 'dark' (as in British bell, fill) everywhere; the
British sound of l as in land, light is not used.
3. (t)t between vowels sounds like d (and this d often sounds like a kind
of r), e.g. in latter, ladder, tomato.
4. The vowel of boat, dote, know, no, etc. is a pure long vowel, not a
diphthong as in British English.
5. Where British English has four vowels, (i) a as in bat, (ii) ah as in
dance, father, (iii) o as in hot, long, and (iv) aw as in law, Amer.
English has only three, differently distributed, viz.: (i) a as in
bat, dance, (ii) ah as in father, hot, and (iii) aw as in long, law.
6. The sound of you (spelt u, ew, etc.) after s, t, d, n, is replaced by
the sound of oo, e.g. in resume, Tuesday, due, new, etc.
7. The sound of u as in up (also spelt o in come, etc.) sounds like the
obscure sound of a as in aloft, china.
8. er is pronounced as in herd in words where it is like ar in hard in
British English, e.g. in clerk, derby.
9. The vowels in the first syllables of (a) ferry, herald, merry, etc.,
(b) fairy, hairy, Mary, etc., and (c) carry, Harry, marry, etc. (i.e.
when r follows) are not distinguished from one another by most General
10. In words of four syllables and over, in which the main stress falls on
the first or second syllable, there is a strong secondary stress on
the last syllable but one, the vowel of which is fully enunciated, not
reduced as in British English, e.g. cўntempl…tive, t‚mpor…ry,
(2) 'A form of U.S. speech without marked dialectal or regional
characteristics' (A Supplement to the OED, Volume 1).
In a few adverbs that end in the sequence -arily there is a tendency to
place the stress on the a rather than the first syllable of the word. The
reason lies in the stress pattern of four- and five-syllable words.
Adjectives of four syllables ending in -ary which are stressed on the
first syllable are generally pronounced with elision of one of the middle
syllables, e.g. military, necessary, temporary pronounced milit'ry,
necess'ry, temp'rary. This trisyllabic pattern is much easier to
The addition of the adverbial suffix -ly converts the word back into an
unwieldly tetrasyllable that cannot be further elided: milit(a)rily,
necess(a)rily, temp(o)rarily. Hence the use of these adverbs is sometimes
avoided by saying in a military fashion, in a solitary way, etc.
A number of these adverbs are, however, in common use, e.g.
Because of the awkwardness of placing the stress on the first syllable,
colloquial speech has adopted a pronunciation with stress on the third
syllable, with the a sounding like e in verily. This is probably a
borrowing from Amer. English, in which this pronunciation problem does not
arise. In adjectives like necessary the ending -ary quite regularly
receives a secondary stress (see "American pronunciation" in topic 2.4
above), which can then be converted into a main stress when -ly is added.
This pronunciation is much easier and more natural in rapid, colloquial
speech, in which it would be pedantic to censure it.
° In formal and careful speech, the standard pronunciation of arbitrarily,
momentarily, necessarily, ordinarily, temporarily, and voluntarily is with
stress on the first syllable.
The case of the word primarily is somewhat different. It contains only
four syllables, which, with stress on the first, can be reduced by elision
of the second syllable to the easily pronounced spoken form prim'rily.
° There is therefore no need to pronounce the word with stress on the
second syllable, pri-merr-ily, or even worse, pri-marr-ily. These are
Note deuced can also be pronounced as one syllable.
2. The following words represent two different spoken forms each with
meanings that differ according to whether -ed is pronounced as a
separate syllable or not. In most cases the former pronunciation
indicates an adjective (as with the list under 1 above), the latter
the past tense and past participle of a verb, but some are more
(a) -ed as separate (b) -ed pronounced 'd
aged = very old (he is very = having the age of (one,
aged, an aged man) etc.) (he is aged three, a
boy aged three); past of to
age (he has aged greatly)
beloved used before noun (beloved used as predicate (he was
brethren); = beloved person beloved by all)
(my beloved is mine)
blessed = fortunate, holy, sacred part of to bless; sometimes
(blessed are the meek, the also in senses listed in
blessed saints); = blessed left-hand column
person (Isles of the
crabbed = cross-grained, hard to past of to crab
crooked = not straight, dishonest = having a transverse handle
(crooked stick); past of to
cursed before noun = damnable past of to curse
dogged = tenacious past of to dog
jagged = indented past of to jag
learned = erudite past of to learn (usually
When the further suffixes -ly (forming adverbs ) and -ness (forming nouns)
are added to adjectives ending in the suffix -ed, an uncertainty arises
about whether to pronounce this -ed- as a separate syllable or not. The
adjectives to which these suffixes are added can be divided into three
1. Those in which -ed is already a separate syllable ( a) because it is
preceded by d or t or (b) because the adjective is one of those
discussed in the entry for -ed above; e.g. belated, decided, excited
levelheaded, wicked. When both -ly and -ness are added, -ed- remains
a separate syllable, e.g. (i) belatedly, decidedly, excitedly,
wickedly; (ii) belatedness, levelheadedness, wickedness.
2. Those in which the syllable preceding -ed is unstressed, i.e. if -(e)d
is removed the word ends in an unstressed syllable; e.g. bad-
tempered, embarrassed, hurried, self-centred. When both -ly and -ness
are added, -ed- remains non-syllabic (i.e. it sounds like 'd), e.g.
There are a few definite exceptions to this rule, e.g. subduedly, tiredly
(ed is not a separate syllable). There are also several words in which
variation is found, e.g. confessedly, depravedly, depressedly (three or
four syllables according to OED); inspiredly (four syllables in OED, but
now probably three).
° Note that some adverbs formed on adjectives in -ed sound awkward and
ugly whether -ed- is pronounced as a separate syllable or not. Because of
this, some authorities (e.g. MEU) discourage the formation of words like
boredly, charmedly, discouragedly, experiencedly.
(ii) When -ness is added, there is greater variation. The older usage
seems to have been to make -ed- an extra syllable. In OED the following
are so marked:
The following have ed or 'd as alternative pronunciation:
But 'd is the only pronunciation in blurredness, subduedness. However,
many other words are not specially marked, and it seems likely that it has
become increasingly rare for -ed- to be separately sounded.
Ь It is acceptable not to make -ed- a separate syllable in words of this
Among younger speakers there is a marked tendency to substitute the sound
of e in caf‚, suede. The reasons for this are probably:
1. The difficulty of making the sounds of e (as in me) and i distinct
when they come together. Cf. the words rabies, species, protein, etc.
in which e and i were originally separate syllables but have now
fused. Because of this difficulty, many users of the traditional
pronunciation of e actually make the first two syllables of deity
sound like deer, and so with the other words.
2. The influence of the reformed pronunciation of Latin in which e has
the sound of e in caf‚.
The same variation is found in the sequence -ei- in the words deism,
deist, reify, reification (but not theism, theist).
° The pronunciation of e as in me is the only generally acceptable one in
all these words.
Stress can be on either the first or the third syllable in secateurs.
Feminine nouns can be formed from some of these by the substitution of -se
for -r: the resulting termination is pronounced like urze in furze, e.g.
coiffeuse, masseuse, saboteuse.
liqueur is pronounced Ii-cure (Amer. li-cur).
A. In certain less familiar words and words taken from foreign languages,
especially Greek, there is often uncertainty as to whether g preceding e,
i, and (especially) y is pronounced hard as in get or soft as in gem.
1. The prefix gyn(o)- meaning 'woman' now always has a hard g.
2. The element -gyn- with the same meaning, occurring inside the word,
usually has a soft g, as in androgynous, misogynist.
3. The elements gyr- (from a root meaning ' ring') and -gitis (in names
of diseases) always have a soft g, as in
The ending -ile is normally pronounced like isle, e.g. in
docile fertile sterile
domicile missile virile
° The usual Amer. pronunciation in most words of this kind is with the
sound of il in daffodil or pencil.
The pronunciation is like eel in:
automobile -mobile (suffix)
-ile forms two syllables in campanile (rhyming with Ely), cantabile
(pronounced can-tah-bi-ly), and sal volatile (rhyming with philately).
There is a distinction in Standard English between ng representing a
single sound (which is represented by n alone before c, k, q, and x, as in
zinc, ink, tranquil, and lynx) and ng representing a compound consisting
of this sound followed by the sound of hard g.
1. The single sound is the only one to occur at the end of a word, e.g.
bring furlong song writing
2. The single sound also occurs in the middle of words, but usually in
words that are a compound of a word ending in -ng (as in 1 above) + a
3. The compound sound, ng + g, is otherwise normal in the middle of
anger language hungry singly
And exceptionally, according to rule 2, in diphthongize, longer, -est,
prolongation, stronger, -est, younger, -est. °
4. It is non-standard:
a. To use -in for -ing (suffix), i.e. to pronounce bringing, writing
as bringin, writin.
b. To use n for ng in length, strength. (The pronunciation lenkth,
strenkth is acceptable.)
c. To use nk for ng in anything, everything, nothing, something.
d. To use the compound sound ng + g in all cases of ng, i.e. in words
covered by rules 1 and 2 as well as 3. This pronunciation is,
however, normal in certain regional forms of English.
1. In many words the sound normally represented in English by u as in
butter, sun is written instead with o, e.g. above, come, front. There
are a few words in which there is variation in pronunciation between
the above sound (as in come, etc.) and the more usual sound of o (as
in body, lot, etc.) The earlier pronunciation of most of these was
with the u-sound; the o-sound was introduced under the influence of
2. Before ff, ft, ss, st, and th, in certain words, there was formerly a
variety of RP in which o was pronounced like aw in law or oa in broad,
so that off often, cross, lost, and cloth sounded like orf, orphan,
° This pronunciation is now non-standard.
3. Before double ll, o has the long sound (as in pole) in some words, and
the short sound (as in Polly) in others.
Difficult though this spelling is for foreign learners, most words in
which it occurs are familiar to the ordinary English speaker.
Pronunciation difficulties may arise, however, with the following words:
brougham (a kind of carriage) broo-am or broom
chough (bird) chuff
clough (ravine) cluff
hough (animal's joint), same as, and sounds like, hock
slough (bog) rhymes with plough
slough (snake's skin) sluff
sough (sound) suff ( can also rhyme with plough)
These sequences occur at the beginning of many words taken from Greek. In
all of them it is normal not to pronounce the initial p-. The exception
is psi representing the name of a Greek letter, used, e.g., as a symbol.
1. When r is the last letter of a word (always following a vowel, or
another r) or precedes 'silent' final e (where it may follow a
consonant, e.g. in acre which really = aker), it is normally silent in
RP, e.g. in
aware four pure
err here runner
But when another word, beginning with a vowel sound, follows in the
same sentence, it is normal to pronounce the final r, e.g. in
aware of it
to err is human
here it is
a kilometre of track
This is called the 'linking r'.
° It is standard to use linking r and unnatural to try to avoid it.
2. A closely connected feature of the spoken language is what is called
a. The commonest occurrence of this is when a word ending with the
obscure sound of a, as china, comma, Jonah, loofah, etc. is
immediately followed by a word beginning with a vowel sound. An
intrusive r is added to the end of the first word as if it were
spelt with -er so as to ease the passage from one word to the
Typical examples are:
the area-r of the island an umbrella-r
the pasta-r is cooked organization
sonata-r in E flat a villa-r in Italy
Here the sound spelt -a at the end of area, pasta, etc., which
sounds the same as -er, -re at the end of runner, kilometre, is
treated as if it were spelt with an r following.
b. In the same way, some speakers unconsciously equate (i) the
spelling a or ah in grandma, Shah with the identical-sounding ar
in far, (ii) the spelling aw in law, draw with the similar our in
four or ore in bore, tore, and (iii) the spelling eu in milieu,
cordon bleu with the similar er(r) in err, prefer. Thus, just as
linking r is used with far, four, bore, tore, err, and prefer,
such speakers introduce an intrusive r in, e.g.
is grandma-r at home? a milieu-r in
The Shah-r of Iran which...
draw-r a picture a cordon bleu-r
law-r and order in the kitchen
c. Intrusive r is often introduced before inflexional endings, e.g.
The boys are keen on scubering (i.e. scubaing) (Berkely Mather)
oohing and ah-r-ing
and even within the word withdraw-r-al.
d. Intrusive r has been noted since the end of the eighteenth
century. In the mid-nineteenth century it was regarded as
unpardonable in an educated person, but acknowledged to occur
widely even among the cultivated.
Its use after obscure a (as described under 2a above), where it
greatly aids the flow of the sentence and is relatively
unobtrusive, is acceptable in rapid, informal speech. The
avoidance of intrusive r here by the insertion of a hiatus or a
catch in the breath would sound affected and pedantic.
° The use of intrusive r after the sounds of ah, aw, and eu (described
under 2b ) is very widely unacceptable and should be avoided if
possible. Its use before inflexional endings (2c above) is illiterate
° In formal speech, the use of intrusive r in any context conveys an
impression of unsuitable carelessness and should not be used at all.
3. There is a tendency in certain words to drop r if it is closely
followed (or in a few cases, preceded) by another r at the beginning
of an unstressed syllable, e.g. in
° This pronunciation should be avoided, especially in formal speech.
2.22 reduced forms
In rapid speech, many of the shorter words whose function is essentially
grammatical rather than lexical, being lightly stressed, tend to be
reduced either by the obscuring of their vowels or the loss of a consonant
or both. They may even be attached to one another or to more prominent
words. similarly, some words such as pronouns and auxiliary verbs are in
rapid speech omitted altogether, while longer words of frequent occurrence
are shortened by the elision of unstressed syllables. Typical examples
gunna, wanna = going to, want to
kinda, sorta = kind of, sort of
gimme, lemme = give me, let me
'snot = it's not
innit, wannit = isn't it, wasn't it
doncha dunno = don't you, I don't know
what's he say, where d'you find it, we done it, what you want it for?
'spect or I'xpect = I expect
(I) spose = I suppose
cos, course, on'y, praps, probly = because, of course, only, perhaps,
° Most of these reduced forms (with the possible exception of innit,
wannit) are natural in informal RP, but severely mar the quality and
clarity of careful and prepared discourse, where they should be avoided.
2.23 s, sh, z and zh
In certain kinds of word, where the spelling is ci, si, or ti, or where it
is s before long u, there is variation between two or more of the four
sounds which may be phonetically represented as:
s as in sun zh representing the
sh as in ship sound of s in leisure
z as in zone or g in r‚gime
1. There is variation between s and sh in words such as:
appreciate association negotiation
appreciation negotiate sociology
This variation does not occur in all words with a similar structure:
only s is used in glaciation, pronunciation (=-see-ay-shon), and only
sh in partiality (par-shee-al-ity). Note that there can be a variant
having the sound of s only with words in which the following i
constitutes a separate syllable; hence only sh occurs in initial,
racial, sociable, spatial, special, etc. It is possible that speakers
avoid using sh in words that end in -tion, which also contains the sh-
sound, so as to prevent the occurrence of this sound in adjacent
syllables, e.g. in appreciation = appreshi-ashon.
2. There is variation between s and sh in sensual, sexual, issue, tissue,
and between z and zh in casual, casuist, visual.
3. There is variation between sh and rh in aversion, equation, immersion,
Ь Either variant is acceptable in each of these kinds of word,
although in all of them sh is the traditional pronunciation.
4. In the names of some countries and regions ending in -sia, and in the
adjectives derived from them, there is variation between sh and zh,
and in some cases z and s as well. So:
Asian = A-shan or A-zhan
Asiatic = A-shi-at-ic or A-zhi-at-ic or A-zi-at-ic or A-si-at-ic
Friesian = Free-zi-an or Free-zhan
Indonesian = Indo-nee-shan or -zhan or -zi-an or -si-an
Persian = Per-shan or Per-zhan
Polynesian (varies like Indonesian)
Rhodesian = Ro-dee-shan or -zhan or -zi-an or -si-an
° In all except Friesian the pronunciation with sh is traditional in RP
and therefore the most widely acceptable. The pronunciation with zh is
also generally acceptable.
1. The position of the stress accent is the key to the pronunciation of
many English polysyllabic words. If it is known on which syllable the
stress falls, it is very often possible to deduce the pronunciation of
the vowels. This is largely because the vowels of unstressed syllables
in English are subject to reduction in length, obscuration of quality,
and, quite often, complete elision. Compare the sound of the vowel in
the stressed syllable in the words on the left with that of the vowel
in the same syllable, unstressed, in the related words on the right:
Because the position of the stress has such an important effect on the
phonetic shape of the word, it is not surprising that many of the most
hotly disputed questions of pronunciation centre on the placing of the
stress. For example, in controversy, stress on the first syllable
causes the four vowels to sound like those of collar turning, while
stress on the second causes them to sound like those of an opposite:
two quite different sequences of vowels.
2. It is impossible to formulate rules accounting for the position of the
stress in every English word, whether by reference to the spelling or
on the basis of grammatical function. If it were, most of the
controversies about pronunciation could be cleared up overnight.
Instead, three very general observations can be made.
a. Within very broad limits, the stress can fall on any syllable.
These limits are roughly defined by the statement that more than
three unstressed syllables cannot easily be uttered in sequence.
Hence, for example, five-syllable words with stress on the first
or last syllable are rare. Very often in polysyllabic words at
least one syllable besides the main stressed syllable bears a
medium or secondary stress, e.g. c terpЌllar, c•ntrovЉrtibЎlity.
b. Although there is such fluidity in the occurrence of stress, some
patterns of stress are clearly associated with some patterns of
spelling or with grammatical function (or, especially, with
variation of grammatical function in a single word). For example,
almost all words ending in the suffixes -ic and -ical are stressed
on the syllable immediately preceding the suffix. There is only a
handful of exceptions: Arabic, arithmetic (noun), arsenic,
catholic, choleric, heretic, lunatic, politic(s), rhetoric.
c. If the recent and current changes and variations in stress in a
large number of words are categorized, a small number of general
tendencies can be discerned. Most of these can be ascribed to the
influence exerted by the existing fixed stress patterns over other
words (many of which may conform to other existing patterns of
stress). It will be the purpose of the remaining part of this
entry to describe some of these tendencies and to relate them to
the existing canons of acceptibility.
3. Two-syllable words
While there is no general rule that says which syllable the stress
will fall on, there is a fixed pattern to which quite a large number
of words conform, by which nouns and adjectives are stressed on the
first syllable, and verbs on the second.
A large number of words beginning with a (Latin) prefix have stress on
the first syllable if they are nouns or adjectives, but on the second
if they are verbs, e.g.
accent import transfer
compound present transport
The same distinction is made in some words ending in -ment, e.g.
And words ending in -ate with stress on the first syllable are usually
nouns, while those with stress on the second are mainly verbs, e.g.
This pattern has recently exercised an influence over several other
words not originally conforming to it. The words
ally defect rampage
were all originally stressed on the second syllable; as verbs, they
still are, but as nouns, they are all usually stressed on the first.
Exactly the same tendency has affected
dispute research recess romance
but in these words, the pronunciation of the noun with stress on the
first syllable is rejected in good usage. The following nouns and
adjectives (not corresponding to identically spelt verbs) show the
same transference of stress: adept, adult, chagrin, supine.
In the verbs combat, contact, harass, and traverse, originally
stressed on the first syllable, a tendency towards stress on the
second syllable is discernible, but the new stress has been accepted
only in the word traverse.
4. Three-syllable words
Of the three possible stress patterns in three-syllable words, that
with stress on the first syllable is the strongest and
best-established, exercising an influence over words conforming to the
other two patterns.
a. Words with stress on the final syllable are relatively rare. A
number of them have been attracted to the dominant pattern; in
some this pattern (stress on the first syllable) is acceptable in
RP, e.g. artisan, commandant, confidant, partisan, promenade; in
others it is not, e.g. cigarette, magazine.
b. Many words originally having stress on the second syllable now
normally or commonly have stress on the first, e.g.
Other words are also affected by this tendency, but the
pronunciation with stress on the first syllable has not been
accepted as standard, e.g. in
Note: This tendency to move the stress back from the second to
the first syllable of three-syllable words has been observed for
at least a century. A case that typically illustrates it is the
word sonorous. In 1884 W. W. Skeat, in his Etymological
Dictionary of the English Language (edn. 2), wrote: 'Properly
sonўrous; it will probably, sooner or later, become sўnorous.' The
first dictionary to recognize the change was Webster's New
International of 1909, which adds the newer pronunciation with the
comment 'now often, esp. in British usage'. Fifty years after
Skeat, G. B. Shaw wrote to The Times (2 Jan. 1934): 'An announcer
who pronounced decadent and sonorous as dekkadent and sonnerus
would provoke Providence to strike him dumb'-- testifying both to
the prevalence of the new pronunciation and to the opposition it
aroused. In 1956 Compton Mackenzie, in an Oxford Union Debate,
protested against the pronunciation of quandary, sonorous, and
decorous with stress on the first syllable (B. Foster, The
Changing English Language, 1968, p. 243). Foster (ibid.),
however, records his surprise in about 1935 at hearing a
schoolmaster use the older pronunciation of sonorous. The newer
pronunciation was first mentioned in the Concise Oxford Dictionary
in 1964; the two pronunciations are both heard, but the newer one
probably now prevails.
c. There is a tendency in a few words to move the stress from the
first to the second syllable. It is generally resisted in standard
usage, e.g. in
combatant exquisite urinal
all of which have stress on the first syllable. But it has
prevailed in aggrandize, chastisement, conversant, doctrinal,
5. Four-syllable words
In a very large group of four-syllable words there is a clash between
two opposing tendencies. One is the impulse to place the stress on the
first syllable; the other is the influence of antepenultimate stress
which is so prevalent in three-syllable words. Broadly speaking, it
has been traditional in RP to favour stress on the first syllable, so
that the shift to the second syllable has been strongly resisted in:
Because antepenultimate stress has been accepted in most of these
words, it is difficult to reject it in the words in the first list
simply on the ground of tradition. Analogy is the obvious argument in
some cases, i.e. the analogy of capital, demonstrate, illustrate,
intricate, kilocycle (or centimetre), and remedy for the words related
to them in the list, but this cannot be used with the remaining words.
6. Five-syllable words
Five-syllable words originally stressed on the first syllable have
been affected by the difficulty of uttering more than three unstressed
syllables in sequence (see 2a above). The stress has been shifted to
the second syllable in laboratory, obligatory, whereas in veterinary
the fourth syllable is elided, and usually the second as well. For
arbitrarily, momentarily, etc., see "-arily" in topic 2.5.
1. In rapid speech, t is often dropped from the sequence cts, so that
acts, ducts, pacts sound like axe, ducks, packs.
° This should be avoided in careful speech.
2. The sounding of t in often is a spelling pronunciation: the
traditional form in RP rhymes with soften.
1. Monosyllabic nouns ending in -th after a vowel sound (or vowel + r)
form the plural by adding -s in the usual way, but the resulting
sequence ths is pronounced in two different ways. In some words It
voiceless as in myths, in others voiced as in mouths.
a. The following are like myth:
berth girth sleuth
birth growth sloth
breath hearth (animal)
death heath smith
faith moth wraith
b. The following are like mouth:
bath sheath wreath
oath swath youth
cloth, lath vary, but are now commonly like myth.
2. Note that final th is like th in bathe, father in:
betroth mouth (verb)
The sound of long u, as in cube, cubic, cue, use is also spelt eu, ew, and
ui, as in feud, few, pursuit. It is properly a compound of two sounds, the
semi-vowel y followed by the long vowel elsewhere written oo. Hence the
word you (=y + oo) sounds like the name of the letter U, ewe, and yew.
When this compound sound follows certain consonants the y is lost, leaving
only the oo-sound.
1. Where it follows ch,j, r, and the sound of sh, the y element was lost
in the mid-eighteenth century.
So brewed, chews, chute, Jules, rude, sound like brood, choose, shoot,
The y element was also lost at about the same time or a little later
where it follows an l preceded by another consonant; so blew, clue,
glue, etc. sound as if they were spelt bloo, cloo, gloo, etc.
2. Where this compound sound follows an l not preceded by another
consonant, loss of the y-element is now very common in a syllable that
bears the main or secondary stress. COD, for instance, gives only the
oo pronunciation in many words, e.g. Lewis, Lucifer, lucrative, lucre,
etc., and either pronunciation for many others, e.g. lubricate, Lucan,
lucid, ludicrous, etc.
It is equally common in internal stressed syllables; in COD the words
allude, alluvial, collusion, voluminous, etc. are given both
pronunciations. So also in a syllable which bears a secondary stress:
Ь In all syllables of these kinds, the oo-sound is probably the
predominant type, but either is acceptable.
° In unstressed syllables, however, it is not usual for the y-element
to be lost. The yoo-sound is the only one possible in, e.g.
curlew purlieu value
deluge soluble volume
Contrast solute (= sol-yoot) with salute (= sa-loot).
3. After s, there is again variation between the compound sound and the
oo-sound. The latter has now a very strong foothold. Very few people,
if any, pronounce Susan and Sue with a yoo, and most people pronounce
super (the word and the prefix) with oo. On the other hand, most
people probably use yoo in pseudo- and in internal syllables, as in
assume, presume, pursue. Common words such as sewage, sewer, suet,
suicide, sue, and suit show wide variation: some people pronounce the
first four (in which another vowel follows ew or u) with oo, but the
last two with yoo.
In an unstressed syllable, the y- sound is kept, as with l in 2 above:
Ь Apart from in Susan, Sue, and super, and the words in which the
vowel occurs in an unstressed syllable, either pronunciation is
acceptable, although yoo is the traditional one.
4. After d, n, t, and th, the loss of the y-sound is non-standard, e.g.
in due, new, tune, enthusiasm.
Note: In Amer. English loss of the y-sound is normal after these
consonants and l and s.
° The tendency to make t and d preceding this sound in stressed
syllables sound like ch and j, e.g. Tuesday, duel as if Choosday,
jewel, should be avoided in careful speech. In unstressed syllables
(e.g. in picture, procedure) it is normal.
After b, f, and p, the sequence ul sounds like ool in wool in some words,
e.g. in bull, full, pull, and like ull in hull in others, e.g. in bulk,
fulminate, pulp. In a few words there is uncertainty about the sound of u,
or actual variation.
(a) Normally with u as in hull:
Bulgarian fulminate pulmonary
ebullient pullulate pulverize
In some regions wh is distinguished from w by being preceded or
accompanied by an h-sound.
Ь This pronunciation is not standard in RP, but is acceptable to most
2.31 B. Preferred pronunciations
The entries in this list are of three kinds. Some of the words in it have
only one current pronunciation, which cannot, however, he deduced with
certainty from the written form. These are mainly words that are
encountered in writing and are not part of the average person's spoken
vocabulary. Another class of words included here have a single,
universally accepted pronunciation, which, in rapid or careless speech,
undergoes a significant slurring or reduction. These reduced forms are
noted, with a warning to use the fully enunciated form in careful speech
so as to avoid giving an impression of sloppiness or casualness. Much the
largest group are words for which two or more different pronunciations
exist. Both (or all) are given, with notes giving a rough guide to the
currency and acceptability of each.
The approach adopted here is fairly flexible, allowing for the inevitable
subjectivity of judgements about pronunciation and the fact that there is
variation and inconsistency even in the speech of an individual person.
Where the American pronunciation is significantly different from the
British (disregarding the differences that are constant, such as the
American pronunciation of r where it is silent in British speech), a note
of it has been added, usually in brackets at the end of the entry. In a
few cases the American pronunciation stands alone after the recommended
one, implying that the use of the American form is incorrect in British
speech. It will be found that in many cases the American pronunciation
coincides with an older British one that is now being ousted. It is hoped
that this will dispel the impression that all innovations are
Americanisms, and give a clearer idea of the relationship between the two
varieties of English pronunciation.
The symbol ° is used to warn against forms especially to be avoided; Ь
introduces most of the cases of peaceful coexistence of two variant
abdomen stress on 1st syllable in general use; on 2nd in the speech of
many members of the medical profession.
the older (and Amer.) pronunciation has 2nd syllable as in
comma; but pronunciation as come is now predominant.
acoustic 2nd syllable as coo, not cow.
acumen stress on 1st syllable.
(adjective and noun): stress on 1st syllable.
adversary stress on 1st syllable.
stress on 2nd syllable.
ague 2 syllables.
albumen stress on 1st syllable.
ally (noun): stress on 1st syllable; (verb) on 2nd syllable; allied
preceding a noun is stressed on 1st syllable.
analogous g as in log; not a-na-lo-jus.
Antarctic ° do not drop the first c.
anti- (prefix): rhymes with shanty, not, as often Amer., ant eye.
antiquary stress on 1st syllable.
apache (Indian): rhymes with patchy; (street ruffian) rhymes with cash.
apartheid 3rd syllable like hate. ° Not apart-ite or apart-hide.
apparatus 3rd syllable like rate; not appar-ah-tus.
stress on 1st syllable.
apposite 3rd syllable like that of opposite.
stress properly on 1st syllable, in informal speech on 3rd.
Arctic ° do not drop the first c.
Argentine 3rd syllable as in turpentine.
stress on 1st syllable. ° Not (except Amer.) a-rist-ocrat.
artisan stress originally on 3rd syllable; pronunciation with stress on
1st syllable is Amer., and now common in Britain.
aspirant stress on 1st syllable.
asthma ass-ma is the familiar pronunciation; to sound the th is
didactic (Amer. az-ma).
ate rhymes with bet (Amer. with bate).
audacious au as in audience, not as in gaucho.
auld lang syne
3rd word like sign, not zine.
azure the older pronunciation was with -zure like -sure in pleasure;
now usually az-yoor.
banal 2nd syllable like that of canal or morale (Amer. rhymes with
basalt 1st a as in gas, 2nd as in salt; stress on either.
bathos a as in paper.
bolero (dance): stress on 2nd syllable; (jacket) stress on 1st.
booth rhymes with smooth (Amer. with tooth).
bouquet first syllable as book, not as beau.
Bourbon (dynasty): 1st syllable as that of bourgeois; (US whisky) 1st
syllable as bur.
breeches rhymes with pitches.
brochure stress on 1st syllable.
brusque should be Anglicized: broosk or brusk.
bureau stress on 1st syllable.
burgh (in Scotland): sounds like borough.
Byzantine stress on 2nd syllable.
cadaver 2nd syllable as in waver.
2nd syllable like 1st of average.
cadre rhymes with harder.
caliph rhymes with bailiff.
camellia rhymes with Amelia.
canine Ь 1st syllable may be as can or cane (the latter probably
canton (subdivision): 2nd syllable as 1st of tonic; (military, also in
cantonment) 2nd syllable as that of cartoon.
stress on 1st syllable.
carillon rhymes with trillion (Amer. carry-lon).
caryatid stress on 2nd a.
catacomb 3rd syllable, in the older pronunciation, as comb; now
frequently rhyming with tomb.
centenary sen-tee-nary (Amer. sen-te-nary).
cento c as in cent, not cello.
stress originally on 2nd syllable; but pronunciation with stress
on 3rd syllable seems to be usual among younger speakers.
stress on 1st and 4th syllables, not 2nd and 4th.
cervical Ь stress either on 1st syllable (with last two syllables as in
vertical) or on 2nd (rhyming with cycle): both pronunciations
have been common for at least a century and a half (Amer. only
the first pronunciation).
chaff rhymes with staff.
chagrin stress on 1st syllable; 2nd as grin (Amer. stress on 2nd
chamois (antelope): sham-wah; (leather) shammy.
traditionally with stress on 1st syllable; now often on 2nd.
chimera ch = k not sh
strictly ch = k, but pronunciation as sh is common.
choleric 1st two syllables like collar.
cigarette stress on 3rd syllable (Amer. on 1st).
stress on 2nd syllable.
clangour rhymes with anger.
clique rhymes with leak, not lick.
coccyx cc = ks.
colander 1st syllable as cull.
combat (verb), combatant, -ive: stress on 1st syllable (Amer. on 2nd).
combine (noun): stress on 1st syllable.
stress originally on 3rd syllable; now often on 1st.
communal stress on 1st syllable.
commune (noun): stress on 1st syllable.
stress on 1st syllable, not on 2nd.
the older (and Amer.) pronunciation has stress on 2nd syllable,
but stress on 3rd is now common.
2nd syllable as pill.
composite stress on 1st syllable; 3rd as that of opposite (Amer. stress
on 2nd syllable).
conch originally = conk; now often with ch as in lunch.
conduit last three letters like those of circuit (Amer. con-doo-it).
the older pronunciation has stress on last syllable, which
rhymes with ant; stress on 1st syllable is now common.
congener stress on 1st syllable; o as in con; g as in gin.
congeries Ь con-jeer-eez or con-jeer-y-eez.
stress on 2nd syllable; pronunciation with stress on 4th
syllable is also common.
conjugal stress on 1st syllable.
stress on 1st syllable; sue like swi in swift.
(adjective): stress on 2nd syllable; (verb) on 1st syllable, 3rd
syllable as mate.
contact (noun and verb): stress on 1st syllable.
stress on 2nd syllable.
(on the contrary): stress on 1st syllable; (perversely) stress
on 2nd syllable.
stress on 2nd syllable. ° The former pronunciation with stress
on 1st syllable has survived in dialect and is frequently heard,
but is not standard.
stress on 1st syllable. ° The pronunciation with stress on 2nd
syllable seems to be increasingly common, but is strongly
disapproved by many users of RP.
contumacy stress on 1st syllable (Amer. on 2nd).
contumely 3 syllables with stress on the 1st.
now usually stressed on 2nd syllable; formerly on 1st.
courier ou as in could.
courteous 1st syllable like curt.
courtesan 1st syllable like court.
courtesy 1st syllable like curt.
covert 1st syllable like that of cover. ° Does not rhyme with overt.
culinary cul- now usually as in culprit; formerly as in peculiar.
dais originally one syllable; now only with two.
data 1st syllable as date. ° Does not rhyme with sonata.
decade stress on 1st syllable.
defect (noun): stress on 1st syllable is now usual.
deficit stress on 1st syllable.
e as in me. ° Pronunciation with e as in suede, f€te is common
among younger speakers, but is disapproved of by many users of
delirious 2nd syllable as 1st of lyrical, not Leary.
demesne 2nd syllable sounds like main.
stress on 1st syllable.
1st two syllables like those of depreciation.
2nd syllable like rice.
in formal speech, stress on 1st syllable; informally, especially
for greater emphasis, on 2nd.
desuetude as for consuetude.
desultory stress on 1st syllable.
° do not drop 4th syllable, i.e. not deteri-ate.
detour dee-tour not day-tour (Amer. de-tour).
deus ex machina
day-us ex mak-ina, not ma-shee-na.
dilemma 1st syllable like dill.
dinghy ding-gy, not rhyming with stringy.
ph = f not p.
the older (and Amer.) pronunciation has stress on 1st syllable,
but it is now usually on the 3rd (with i as in pin).
stress on 2nd syllable.
dispute (noun): stress on 2nd syllable, not on 1st.
dissect 1st syllable as Diss. ° Does not rhyme with bisect.
stress on 2nd syllable.
doctrinal the older pronunciation has stress on 1st syllable, but it is
now usually on the 2nd (with i as in mine).
1st syllable like doll (Amer. like dole).
dour rhymes with poor not power.
dubiety last 3 syllables like those of anxiety.
ducat 1st syllable like duck.
dynast, dynastic, dynasty
1st syllable like din (Amer. like dine).
ebullient u as in dull, not as in bull.
economic Ь e as in extra or as in equal: both are current.
Edwardian 2nd syllable as ward.
e'er (poetry, = ever): sounds like air.
efficacy stress on 1st syllable, not 2nd.
ego 1st syllable as that of eager.
etc.: 1st syllable like egg (Amer. usually as ego).
either ei as in height or seize: both are widely current (Amer. only
the second pronunciation).
elixir rhymes with mixer.
enclave en- as in end, a as in slave.
entirety now usually entire-ety; formerly entire-ty.
envelope en- as in end not on.
environs rhymes with sirens.
epos e as in epic.
epoxy stress on 2nd syllable.
equerry stress properly on 2nd syllable, but commonly on 1st.
espionage now usually with -age as in camouflage.
et cetera etsetera. ° Not eksetera.
stress originally on 1st syllable, but now usually on 2nd.
exquisite stress on 1st syllable.
1st a is silent.
fakir sounds like fake-ear.
falcon a as in talk, not as in alcove.
fascia rhymes with Alsatia.
1st syllable like that of fashion.
February ° do not drop the 1st r: feb-roor-y, not feb-yoor-y or
feb-wa-ry or feb-yoo-erry (Amer. feb-roo-erry).
e as in fetter.
fifth in careful speech, do not drop the 2nd f.
finance Ь stress on 1st syllable (only with i as in fine) or on 2nd
(with i as in fin or fine).
forbade 2nd syllable like bad.
in careful speech, stress on 1st syllable; informally, on 2nd.
forte (one's strong point): originally (and Amer.) like fort, but now
usually like the musical term forte.
fulsome u formerly as in dull, now always as in full.
furore 3 syllables (Amer. furor with 2).
Gaelic 1st syllable as gale.
gala 1st a as in calm. ° The former pronunciation with a as in gale
is still used in the North and US.
gallant (brave, etc.): stress on 1st syllable; (polite and attentive to
ladies) stress on 1st or 2nd syllable.
garage stress on 1st syllable, age as in camouflage (or rhyming with
large). ° Pronunciation so as to rhyme with carriage is
non-standard (Amer. ga-rahge).
garrulity stress on 2nd syllable, which sounds like rule.
garrulous stress on 1st syllable.
gaseous 1st syllable like gas.
genuine ine as in engine.
genus e as in genius; genera (plural) has e as in general.
now usually with g as in gin; g as in give was formerly frequent
in the first word and normal in the second.
glacial lst a as in glade.
golf o as in got. ° The pronunciation goff is old-fashioned.
gone o as in on. ° The pronunciation gawn is non-standard.
° In careful speech, do not drop the 1st n (or the whole 2nd
gratis a properly as in grate; but grahtis and grattis are commonly
greasy Ь s may be as in cease or easy.
grievous ° does not rhyme with previous.
half-past ° In careful speech, avoid saying hah past or hoff posst.
stress on 1st syllable (Amer. often on 2nd).
have in rapid speech, the weakstressed infinitive have is reduced to
've and sounds like the weakly stressed form of the preposition
of. When stress is restored to it, it should become have, not
of, as in 'You couldn't 've done it', 'I could have' (not 'I
hectare 2nd syllable like tar, not tare.
hegemony stress on 2nd syllable, g as in get or (as also Amer.) as in
Hegira stress on 1st syllable, which is like hedge.
heinous ei as in rein.
homo- (prefix = same): o as in from.
1st two syllables rhyme with Romeo.
last three syllables sound like genius.
h silent, a as in rare.
stress properly on 1st syllable.
hotel h to be pronounced.
stress on 1st syllable, i as in whiff
o as in hot. ° The former pronunciation with o as in love is now
idyll i as in idiot; it may be like i in idea in idyllic (with stress
on 2nd syllable) and usually is in idyllist (with stress on 1st
stress on 1st syllable (Amer. on 2nd).
imbroglio g is silent; rhymes with folio.
impious stress on 1st syllable; on 2nd in impiety.
importune stress on 3rd syllable or (with some speakers) on 2nd.
inchoate stress on 1st syllable.
indict c is silent; rhymes with incite.
stress on 3rd syllable.
stress originally on 2nd syllable, but now usually on 3rd.
infamous stress on 1st syllable.
inherent 1st e as in here.
intaglio g is silent, a as in pal or pass.
integral stress on 1st syllable.
intern (verb): stress on 2nd syllable; (noun, Amer.) on 1st.
stress on 3rd syllable, last two syllables like knee sign.
stress on 2nd syllable.
stress on 2nd syllable; 3rd syllable like tin.
intricacy stress on 1st syllable.
invalid (sick person): stress on 1st syllable, 2nd as in lid or machine;
(verb) stress on 1st or 3rd syllable, 2nd i as in machine; (not
valid) stress on 2nd syllable.
inveigle originally rhyming with beagle, but now commonly with Hegel.
inventory like infantry with v instead of f.
stress on 2nd syllable.
° not irrevalent, a blunder sometimes heard.
stress on 2nd syllable.
stress on 2nd syllable.
issue ss as in mission; but pronunciation to rhyme with miss you is
isthmus do not drop the th.
January jan-yoor-y (Amer. jan-yoo-erry).
jejune stress on 2nd syllable.
jewellery jewel-ry. ° Not jool-ery.
joule (unit): rhymes with fool.
jubilee stress on 1st syllable ° Not 3rd.
jugular 1st syllable like jug: formerly as in conjugal.
junta pronounce as written. ° Hoonta, an attempt to reproduce the
Spanish pronunciation, is chiefly Amer.
kilometre stress on 1st syllable, as with kilocycle, kilolitre. ° Not on
2nd syllable; the pattern is that of millimetre, centimetre
(units), not that of speedometer, milometer, etc. (devices).
knoll o as in no.
stress on 2nd syllable. ° The former pronunciation, with stress
on 1st syllable, is now chiefly used by Amer. speakers (with o
as in Tory).
stress on 1st syllable.
languor as for clangour.
lasso stress on 2nd syllable, o as in do.
lather rhymes with gather, not rather.
launch rhymes with haunch, not branch.
leeward (in general use): lee-ward; (nautical) like lured.
leisure rhymes with pleasure (Amer. with seizure).
length ng as in long. ° Not lenth.
levee (reception, assembly): like levy; (Amer., embankment) may be
stressed on 2nd syllable.
library in careful speech avoid dropping the 2nd syllable (li-bry).
lichen sounds like liken.
1st syllable like left; in Navy, like let (Amer. like loot).
longevity ng as in lunge.
longitude ng as in lunge. ° Not (latitude and) longtitude, an error
originally rhyming with arrived, but now usually like past tense
lour rhymes with hour.
machete ch as in attach; rhymes with Betty (or with some speakers,
ch as in mechanical, not as in machine.
ch as in attach, not as in mechanical.
magazine stress on 3rd syllable (Amer. and Northern pronunciation has
stress on 1st).
maieutic 1st syllable like may.
mandatory stress on 1st syllable.
margarine g as in Margery.
marital stress on 1st syllable.
massage stress on 1st syllable (Amer. on 2nd).
matrix a as in mate; matrices (plural) the same, with stress on 1st
medicine two syllables (med-sin). ° The pronunciation with three
syllables is normal in Scotland and the US, but disapproved of
by many users of RP.
mediocre 1st syllable like mead.
stress on 2nd syllable. ° The older pronunciation with stress on
1st syllable, becoming rare in Britain, is chiefly Amer.
stress on 3rd syllable.
metope two syllables.
midwifery stress on 1st syllable, i as in whiff
mien sounds like mean.
migraine 1st syllable like me (Amer. like my).
migratory stress on 1st syllable.
millenary stress on 2nd syllable, which is like Len or lean.
stress on 2nd syllable (Amer. on 1st).
stress on 1st syllable. ° Not rhyming with previous.
stress on 2nd syllable.
mocha (coffee): originally (and Amer.) rhyming with coca, now often
stress on 1st syllable.
municipal stress on 2nd syllable.
na‹ve nah-Eve or nigh-Eve.
na‹vety has 3 syllables.
nascent a as in fascinate.
in formal speech, has stress on 1st syllable, with reduction or
elision of a; informally, especially in emphatic use, stressed
on 3rd syllable (e.g. not necessarily!).
neither as for either.
nephew ph sounds like v (Amer. like f).
nicety has three syllables.
niche nitch has been the pronunciation for two or three centuries;
neesh, now common, is remodelled on the French form.
stress on 2nd syllable. The pronunciation with stress on 1st and
3rd syllables is now chiefly Amer.
stress on 1st syllable, ch as in machine.
nuclear newk-lee-er. ° Not as if spelt nucular.
nucleic stress on 2nd syllable, which has e as in equal.
obdurate stress on 1st syllable.
obeisance 2nd syllable like base.
stress on 2nd syllable.
obscenity e as in scent.
2nd syllable like the 1st in current.
o'er (poetry, over): sounds like ore.
of see have.
often the t is silent, as in soften.
ominous 1st syllable as that of omelette.
ph =f not p.
opus o as in open.
ormolu orm-o-loo with weak 2nd o as in Caroline.
p (abbreviation for penny, pence): in formal context, say penny
(after 1) or pence. ° 'Pee' is informal only.
pace (with all due respect to): like pacey.
panegyric stress on 3rd syllable, g as in gin, y as in lyric.
paprika stress on 1st syllable (Amer. on 2nd).
pariah the older pronunciation has the stress on 1st syllable, rhyming
with carrier; the pronunciation with stress on 2nd syllable,
rhyming with Isaiah, is now common (and normal Amer.).
stress on 1st syllable; 1st i may be dropped.
in careful speech, avoid dropping the 4th syllable (particuly).
partisan as artisan.
pasty (pie): a now usually as in lass; the older sound, as in past, is
sometimes used in Cornish pasty.
patent 1st syllable like pate. ° Some who use this pronunciation for
the general sense, have 1st syllable like pat in Patent Office,
pathos as for bathos.
patriarch 1st a as in paper.
a as in pat or paper.
a as in paper.
a as in pat.
stress on 2nd syllable.
stress on 2nd syllable (Amer. on 1st).
perhaps in careful speech, two syllables with h, not r, sounded;
stress on oe; -poeia rhymes with idea.
2nd h is silent.
phthisis ph is silent.
pianist stress on 1st i, ia as in Ian
piano (instrument): a as in man; (musical direction) a as in calm.
piazza zz = ts.
pistachio a as in calm or man, ch as in machine.
rhyme with lad, flat.
plastic rhymes with fantastic. ° The pronunciation with a as in calm
sounds affected to many people.
pogrom originally with stress on the 2nd syllable (as in Russian); now
usually on the 1st.
the older pronunciation was with 1st e silent, o as in come or
from, and stress either on o or the 1st a; the pronunciation
pom-gran-it is still used by some speakers, but pommy-gran-it is
porpoise oise like ose in purpose.
h is silent.
stress on 2nd syllable (Amer. on 3rd), pot- like Poe.
originally with stress on 2nd syllable, now usually on 1st,
which sounds like press.
precedent (adjective): stress on 2nd syllable; (noun) as for precedence.
as for precedence.
stress on 1st syllable.
premise (verb): stress on 2nd syllable, rhyming with surmise.
prestige stress on 2nd syllable, i and g as in r‚gime.
rhymes with religious.
primarily stress on 1st syllable, with a reduced or elided. ° The
pronunciation with stress on the 2nd syllable, used by some (but
not all) Americans, is disapproved of by many users of RP.
Primates (order of mammals) originally with 3 syllables, but now often
primer (elementary school-book): i as in prime. ° The older
pronunciation with i as in prim survives in Australia and New
privacy Ьi as in privet or private; the former is probably commoner; the
latter is the older and Amer. pronunciation.
probably in careful speech, 3 syllables; informally often probbly.
process (noun): o as in probe. ° An older pronunciation with o as in
profit is now only Amer.
process (verb, to treat): like the noun; (to walk in procession) stress
on 2nd syllable.
stress on 1st syllable.
2nd syllable like nun. ° Not pro-noun-ciation.
prosody 1st syllable like that of prospect.
protean stress on 1st syllable.
prot‚g‚ 1st syllable like that of protestant (Amer. like that of
proven o as in prove.
proviso 2nd syllable as that of revise.
puissance (show-jumping): pronounced with approximation to French, pui =
pwi, a nasalized; (in poetry) may be pwiss-ance or pew-iss-ance,
depending on scansion.
pyramidal stress on 2nd syllable.
quaff rhymes with scoff
quagmire a originally as in wag, now usually as in quad.
qualm rhymes with calm; the older pronunciation, rhyming with shawm,
is now rare.
quandary stress on 1st syllable; the older pronunciation, with stress on
2nd syllable, is rarely, if ever, heard.
quasi the vowels are like those in wayside.
kwatt-er-, not quarter-.
1st two syllables like question.
rabid 1st syllable like that of rabbit.
rabies 2nd syllable like bees, not like the 2nd syllable of babies.
rampage (verb): stress on 2nd syllable; (noun) on 1st syllable.
rapport stress on 2nd syllable, which sounds like pore (Amer. like
1st two syllables like ratty, stress on 3rd.
rationale ale as in morale.
really rhymes with ideally, clearly, not with freely.
recess (noun and verb): stress on 2nd syllable.
recognize ° do not drop the g.
recondite stress on 1st or 2nd syllable. The former is the commoner, the
latter, the older, pronunciation.
2nd syllable like the 1st of Cupid.
referable stress on 1st syllable.
stress on 2nd syllable, e as in medium.
stress on 1st syllable; the older pronunciation, with stress on
2nd syllable, is rare.
stress on 2nd syllable, ai as in plaice.
renege the traditional pronunciation rhymes with league. ЬA
pronunciation to rhyme with plague, for long dialectal, is now
common. ° g is hard as in get, not as in allege.
reportage age as in camouflage, but with stress.
research (noun): stress on 2nd syllable (Amer. on 1st).
respite stress on 1st syllable, 2nd like spite (Amer. like spit).
pronunciation with final t silent and second a nasalized is
preferred by many, but that with ant = ont is widespread.
anch as in ranch.
ribald 1st syllable like rib.
risible rhymes with visible.
risqu‚ Ь rees-kay or riss-kay.
romance stress on 2nd syllable. ° Pronunciation with stress on 1st
syllable, usually in sense 'love affair, love story', is
non-standard (except when used jocularly).
Romany 1st syllable as that of Romulus.
rotatory stress on 1st syllable.
rowan ow. often as in low, although in Scotland, whence the word
comes, it is as in cow.
rowlock rhymes with Pollock.
now always rhymes with religious.
salve (noun, ointment; verb, soothe): properly rhymes with halve, but
now usually with valve (Amer. with have).
salve (save ship): rhymes with valve.
satiety as for dubiety.
Saudi rhymes with rowdy, not bawdy.
scabies as for rabies.
scabrous 1st syllable like that of scabious (Amer. like scab).
scallop rhymes with wallop.
scarify (make an incision): rhymes with clarify. ° Not to be confused
with slang scarify (terrify) pronounced scare-ify.
scenario sc as in scene, ario as in impresario (Amer. with a as in Mary).
schedule sch as in Schubert (Amer. as in school).
schism properly, ch is silent (siz'm); but skiz'm is often heard.
schist (rock): sch as in Schubert.
scilicet 1st syllable like that of silent.
scone rhymes with on.
second (to support): stress on 1st syllable; (to transfer) on 2nd.
secretary sek-re-try. ° Not sek-e-try or sek-e-terry or (Amer.)
secretive stress on 1st syllable.
ei as in seize.
seismic 1st syllable like size.
seraglio g silent, a as in ask.
sheik sounds like shake (Amer. like chic).
i as in simple (Amer. as in Simon).
sinecure properly, i as in sign, but i as in sin is common.
sisal 1st syllable like the 2nd of precise.
sixth in careful speech, avoid the pronunciation sikth.
slalom a as in spa.
slaver (dribble): a as in have.
sleight sounds like slight.
sloth rhymes with both.
slough (bog): rhymes with bough; (to cast a skin) with tough.
sobriquet 1st syllable like that of sober.
sojourn 1st o as in sob (Amer. as in sober).
solder o as in sob (Amer. pronunciation is sodder or sawder).
solecism o as in sob.
solenoid stress on 1st syllable, o as in sober or as in sob.
sonorous stress on 1st syllable, 1st o as in sob.
soporific 1st o now usually as in sob (formerly also as in sober).
sough (rushing sound): rhymes with tough.
sov'renty. ° Not sov-rain-ity.
Soviet o as in sober. The pronunciation with o as in sob is also very
species ci as in precious. Not spee-seez.
spinet Ь may be stressed on either syllable.
as for deify, deity.
stalwart 1st syllable like stall.
status 1st syllable like stay. ° Not statt-us.
stigmata stress on 1st syllable. ° Not with ata as in sonata.
strafe rhymes with staff.
a as in Stratford.
a of first syllable like 1st a of sonata.
strength ng as in strong. ° Not strenth.
a as 1st a in lava.
stress originally on 2nd syllable with i as in side;
pronunciation with stress on 1st syllable and i as in sit is
1st a as in ant, not aunt.
(in grammar): stress on 1st syllable; (having separate
existence, permanent) on 2nd syllable.
suffragan g as in get.
stress on 4th syllable.
supine (adjective): stress on 1st syllable (Amer. on 2nd).
suppose ° in careful speech, avoid the elision of the u; informal l
s'pose so, s'posing it happens?
surety now usually three syllables (sure-et-y); originally two
° do not drop the l; sur-vey-lance, not sur-vey-ance.
suzerain u as in Susan.
swath a as in water; in plural, th as in paths.
syndrome two syllables (formerly three).
Ь stress on 1st or 3rd syllable.
stress on 1st syllable (with weakening or dropping of o):
temp-ra-rily. ° Not tempo-rar-ily.
Tibetan 2nd syllable like bet, not beat.
tissue as for issue.
tonne sounds like ton. ° To avoid misunderstanding, metric can be
prefixed; but in most spoken contexts the slight difference
between the imperial and metric weights will not matter.
tortoise as for porpoise.
3rd syllable like the 2nd of croquet (Amer. like kit).
towards the form with two syllables is now the most common; some
speakers use the pronunciation tords in all contexts, others
only in some.
trachea stress on e (Amer. on 1st a, pronounced as in trade).
trait 2nd t is silent (in Amer. pronunciation, it is sounded).
stress properly on 1st syllable; now often (and Amer.) on 2nd.
stress on 1st syllable is implied by the single r (see "doubling
of final consonant" in topic 1.16; but the form transferrable
was formerly common, and accounts for the common pronunciation
with stress on 2nd syllable.
Ь tran-sizh-on or tran-zish-on.
Ь last two syllables either like those of apparent or like
au as in cause (Amer. as in gaucho).
traverse (noun): stress on 1st syllable; (verb) on 2nd syllable. (The
original pronunciation of the verb exactly like the noun is
still usual in Amer. English.)
trefoil stress on 1st syllable, e as in even or as in ever.
triumvir 1st two syllables like those of triumphant.
troth rhymes with both (Amer. with cloth).
trow rhymes with know.
truculent 1st u as in truck; formerly as in true.
turquoise Ь tur-kwoyz or tur-kwahz.
ululate yool-yoo-late. The alternative pronunciation ull-yoo-late seems
now to be chiefly Amer.
umbilical stress on 2nd syllable.
2nd syllable like press.
untoward the older pronunciation rhymed with lowered, but the
pronunciation with stress on the 3rd syllable is now usual.
Uranus stress on 1st syllable.
urinal stress on 1st syllable.
usual in careful speech, avoid complete loss of u (yoo-zh'l).
uxorious 1st u as Uxbridge.
vagary the original pronunciation was with stress on 2nd syllable, but
this has been almost entirely superseded by that with stress on
stress on 2nd syllable, as in china.
valance rhymes with balance.
(chemistry): a as in ale.
valet those who employ them sound the t.
Valkyrie stress on 1st syllable.
vase a as in dance (Amer. rhymes with face or phase).
veld sounds like felt.
venison the old pronunciation ven-z'n is now rare; ven-i-z'n or
ven-i-s'n are usual.
stress on 1st syllable, with reduction or elision of 2nd e and a
(vet-rin-ry). ° Not vet-nar or (Amer.) vet-rin-ery.
vice (in the place of): rhymes with spicy.
three syllables, 2nd e as in errant.
sound like vitt-ell-er, vittles.
viola (instrument): stress on 2nd syllable, i as in Fiona; (flower)
stress on 1st syllable, i as in vie.
vitamin i as in hit (Amer. as in vital).
viz. (=videlicet): when reading aloud, it is customary to substitute
namely; 'viz' is chiefly jocular.
stress on 1st syllable.
waistcoat the older pronunciation was wess-kot (with 2nd syllable like
that of mascot); but the pronunciation as spelt has replaced it,
except among older speakers.
° do not drop the l.
werewolf 1st syllable like weir.
whoop (cry of excitement, whoop it up): = woop; (cough, whooping
cough) = hoop; both rhyme with loop.
wrath rhymes with cloth (Amer. with hath).
wroth as for troth.
yoghurt yogg-urt (Amer. yoh-gurt).
zoology in careful speech, best pronounced with 1st o as in zone; there
are a number of other compounds of zoo- in technical use, in
which this is the normal pronunciation.
The perfect use of language is that in which every word
carries the meaning that it is intended to, no less and
(C. Connolly, Enemies of Promise)
THIS section is concerned with problems of meaning, construction,
derivation, and diction, associated with individual words. The main aim is
to recommend the meaning or construction most appropriate for serious
writing or formal speaking, but some attention is paid to informal and
(noun) should be used in formal contexts as the singular of
aborigines; Aboriginal, Aboriginals (with capitals) are
preferable for singular and plural when referring to the
aboriginal inhabitants of Australia.
° Aborigine is informal only.
account, to reckon, consider, is not followed by as, e.g. Mere
morality...was once accounted a shameful and cynical thing (G.
affect, to have an influence on, e.g. Hugh was immensely affected by the
way Randall had put it (Iris Murdoch).
° Do not confuse with effect to accomplish, e.g. He picked at
the German's lapel, hoping to effect a closer relationship by
touch (Patrick White).
° There is a noun effect 'result, property', e.g. to good
effect, personal effects, sound effects; but there is no noun
affect except in the specialized language of Psychology.
affinity between or with, not to or for, since mutual relationship or
attraction is meant, e.g. Ann felt an affinity with them, as she
too were an old dusty object (Iris Murdoch); Points of affinity
between Stephen and Bloom (Anthony Burgess).
afflict: see inflict
aftermath can be used of any after-effects, e.g. The aftermath of the
wedding seemed to mean different things to different people (The
Times). It is pedantic to object to the sense 'unpleasant
consequences' on the ground of derivation.
agenda (from a Latin plural) is usually a singular noun (with plural
agendas), e.g. It's a short agenda, by the way (Edward Hyams).
But it is occasionally found in its original use as a plural
meaning 'things to be done' or 'items of business to be
considered' (singular agend).
aggravate (1) To make worse, e.g. The war...simply aggravates the
permanent human situation (C. S. Lewis). (2) To annoy,
° Sense (2) is regarded by some people as incorrect, but is
common informally. The participial adjective aggravating is
often used in sense (2) by good writers, e.g. He had pronounced
and aggravating views on what the United States was doing for
the world (Graham Greene).
ain't (= are not, is not, have not has not) is not used in Standard
English except in representations of dialect speech, or
humorously. Aren't (= are not) is also a recognized
colloquialism for am not in the interrogative construction
alibi, a plea that when an alleged act took place one was elsewhere.
° The sense 'an excuse' is informal and to many people
unacceptable, e.g. Low spirits make you seem complaining...I
have an alibi because I'm going to have a baby (L. P. Hartley).
all of (= the whole of, the entirety of, every one of) is usual before
pronouns, e.g. And so say all of us, or emphatically, often
paralleling none of etc., before nouns, e.g. Marshall Stone has
all of the problems but none of the attributes of a star
(Frederick Raphael). Otherwise all + noun is normal, e.g. All
the King's men.
° The general use of all of before nouns is Amer. only.
This phrase is popularly thought of as a unit, e.g. an all-right
bloke, but its unitary nature has not yet been recognized in
spelling by the standard language, probably because the
expression remains largely an informal one.
° Alright, though widely seen in the popular press, remains
non-standard, even where the standard spelling is somewhat
cumbersome, as in: I just wanted to make sure it was all all
right (Iris Murdoch).
allude means 'refer indirectly'; an allusion is 'an indirect
reference', e.g. He would allude to her, and hear her discussed,
but never mention her by name (E. M. Forster).
° The words are not, except very informally, mere synonyms for
(adjective and noun). The use of alternative with reference to
more than two options, though sometimes criticized, is
acceptable, e.g. We have been driven to Proletarian Democracy by
the failure of all the alternative systems (G. B. Shaw).
° Do not confuse with alternate happening or following in turns,
e.g. Just as every sense is afflicted with a fitting torment so
is every spiritual faculty;...the sensitive faculty with
alternate longing and rage (James Joyce).
° Beware of using this when all (adjective) together (adverb) is
meant, e.g. The dogs were now running, all together.The reverse
error, of using all together for the adverb altogether, should
also be avoided; altogether is correct in There's too much going
on altogether at the moment (Evelyn Waugh).
amend, to alter to something that sounds better, make improvements in;
to make better e.g. If you consider my expression inadequate I
am willing to amend it (G. B. Shaw); I have amended my life,
have I not? (James Joyce); noun amendment.
° Do not confuse with emend to remove errors from (something
written), e.g. An instance of how the dictionary may be emended
or censored (Frederic Raphael); noun emendation. An emendation
will almost always be an amendment, but the converse is not
analogous means 'similar in certain respects'. It is not a mere synonym
(1) To be aware of (something) in advance and take suitable
action, to deal with (a thing) or perform (an action) before
someone else has had time to act so as to gain an advantage, to
take action appropriate to (an event) before the due time, e.g.
His power to anticipate every change of volume and tempo (C. Day
Lewis); I shall anticipate any such opposition by tendering my
resignation now (Angus Wilson); She had anticipated execution by
suicide (Robert Graves); Some unknown writer in the second
century...suddenly anticipated the whole technique of
modern...narrative (C. S. Lewis).
(2) To take action before (another person) has had the
opportunity to do so, e.g. I'm sorry--do go on. I did not mean
to anticipate you (John le Carr‚).
(3) To expect (used only with an event as a direct object), e.g.
Serious writers...anticipated that the detective story might
supersede traditional fiction; Left-wing socialists really
anticipated a Fascist dictatorship (A. J. P. Taylor).
° Sense (3) is well established in informal use, but is regarded
as incorrect by many people. Use expect in formal contexts. In
any case, anticipate cannot be followed, as expect can, by
infinitive constructions (I expect to see him or him to come) or
a personal object (I expect him today) and cannot mean 'expect
as one's due' (I expect good behaviour from pupils).
means 'characterize by direct opposition to'; it is not a mere
synonym for opposed to.
approve (1) (Followed by direct object) authorize, e.g. I will give
letters of introduction to persons approved by you (NEB).
(2) (Followed by of) consider good, e.g. All the books approved
of by young persons of cultivated taste (C. P. Snow).
° Approve should not be used in sense (2) with a direct object,
as (wrongly) in Laziness, rudeness, and untidiness are not
approved in this establishment (correctly, approved of).
apt, followed by the to-infinitive, carries no implication that the
state or action expressed by the infinitive is undesirable from
the point of view of its grammatical subject (though it often is
from that of the writer), e.g. In weather like this he is apt to
bowl at the batsman's head (Robert Graves). It indicates that
the subject of the sentence is habitually predisposed to doing
what is expressed by the verb, e.g. Time was apt to become
confusing (Muriel Spark). Compare liable, which, however, is
not complementary to apt to, but overlaps with it; apt to,
followed by a verb with undesirable overtones, = 'habitually or
customarily liable to'.
aren't see ain't.
can be both noun (a native of Argentina) and adjective (=
belonging to Argentina).
° Only the former is used in Argentine Republic, and it also has
the advantage of brevity when used in other contexts. It rhymes
artiste, a professional singer, dancer, or similar public performer:
used of persons of either sex.
as (1) = that, which, or who (relative) is now non-standard except
after same, such, e.g. Such comments as seem to be needed
(George Orwell); but not I know somebody who knows this kid as
went blind (Alan Sillitoe, representing regional speech).
(2) = that (conjunction), introducing a noun clause, is now
non-standard, e.g. in I don't know as you'll like it.
Asian is to be preferred when used of persons to Asiatic, which is now
widely considered derogatory; the formation of Asian is in any
case more closely parallel to that of European, African, etc.
Asiatic is acceptable in other contexts, e.g. Asiatic coastal
regions; The Royal Asiatic Society; Asiatic cholera.
as from is used in formal dating to mean 'from' or 'after' and followed
by an actual date, e.g. As from 10 p.m. on 15 October. As of,
originally Amer., has the same meaning and use.
° As of now, yesterday, and the like, are informal and humorous
Amer., = apart from, except for.
as if, as though
(1) Followed by the past tense when the verb refers to an unreal
possibility (i.e. when the statement introduced by as if, as
though is untrue, or unlikely), e.g. Every critic writes as if
he were infallible (Cyril Connolly); It's not as though he lived
like a Milord (Evelyn Waugh). (2) Followed by the present tense
when the statement is true, or might be true; this is especially
common when the verbs look or sound precede, e.g. I suppose you
get on pretty well with your parents. You look as though you do
(Kingsley Amis); He speaks as though even the rules which we
freely invent are somehow suggested to us in virtue of their
being right (Mary Warnock).
Someone called it to my attention (Alison Lurie) represents an
illogical reversal of the idiom, not uncommon in speech; someone
called (or drew) my attention to it or someone brought it to my
attention would be better in formal contexts.
author (verb) is a rarely required synonym for write; co-author,
however, is acceptable as a verb.
avenge: one avenges an injured person or oneself on (occasionally
against) an offender, or a wrong on an offender; the noun is
vengeance (on), and the idea is usually of justifiable
retribution, as distinct from revenge, though the distinction is
aware is normally a predicative adjective followed by an of-phrase or
a that-clause, but can also be preceded by an adverb in the
sense 'aware of, appreciative of (the subject indicated by the
adverb)', a chiefly Amer. use, e.g. The most intellectually
ambitious and the most technically aware (W. S. Graham).
° To use aware without any qualifying word at all is modish but
meaningless, e.g. Aware, provincial, intelligent, tall
Englishman (New Statesman).
bacteria is the plural of bacterium, not a singular noun.
baluster, a short pillar with a curving outline, especially in a
balustrade; banister, an upright supporting a stair handrail
(usually in the plural).
beg the question,
to assume the truth of the thing which is to be proved, e.g. I
scoffed at that pompous question-begging word 'Evolution' (H. G.
° It does not mean (1) to avoid giving a straight answer; or (2)
to invite the obvious question (that...).
behalf on behalf of X (= in X's interest, as X's representative) should
not be confused with on the part of x (= proceeding from or done
by X); behalf cannot replace part in His death was largely due
to panic on his part.
benign (in Medicine) has malignant as its antonym.
beside (preposition) is used of spatial relationships, or in figurative
adaptations of these, e.g. Beside oneself with joy; Quite beside
the question; We all seemed children beside him (Evelyn Waugh);
besides = in addition to, other than, e.g. Besides this I
started my second year by joining the Ruskin School of Art
between. There are no grounds for objection to the use of between 'to
express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things
severally and collectively' (OED); among should not be
substituted in, e.g., Cordial relations between Britain, Greece,
see also choose between.
bi- (prefix). Biannual = appearing (etc.) twice a year, half-yearly;
biennial = recurring (etc.) every two years, two-yearly.
Bimonthly, bi-weekly, and bi-yearly are ambiguous in sense,
meaning either 'twice a month (etc.)' or 'every two months
(etc.)'; they are best avoided.
° Use twice a month or semi-monthly, twice a week or
semi-weekly, and twice a year in the first sense, and every two
months, fortnightly or every two weeks, and every two years in
the second sense.
billion, etc. (1) Traditional British usage has a billion = a million
million (1,000,000,000,000 = 10 to the power of 12), a trillion
= a million to the power of 3 (10 to the power of 18), and a
quadrillion = a million to the power of 4 (10 to the power of
24); the logic is that the initial bi-, tri-, quadri-, etc.
relate to the powers of a million.
(2) The US usage makes each 'step' from million to quadrillion,
and beyond, a power of 1,000; i.e. million = 1000 to the power
of 2, billion = 1000 to the power of 3, trillion = l000 to the
power of 4, quadrillion = l000 to the power of 5.
(3) For the quantity 'thousand million' (l000 to the power of 3
= l0 to the power of 9), the older British term milliard is now
rare. Many people who have frequent need to refer to the
quantity, namely astronomers and economists, use the American
billion for this. Most British national newspapers have
officially adopted it too.
° In general contexts it is probably safer to use thousand
million (X,000 m.). But where the sense is vague, e.g. A billion
miles away, Billions of stars, the exact value is immaterial.
Note that American trillion (10 to the power of 12) =
traditional British billion.
but = 'except', followed by a pronoun: see but, case following.
is properly the plural of candelabrum and is best kept so in
° Candelabra (singular), candelabras (plural) are frequent
censure, to criticize harshly and unfavourably, e.g. Laura censured his
immoral marriage (E. M. Forster).
° Do not confuse with censor to suppress (the whole or parts of
books, plays, etc.).
centre about, (a)round,
meaning (figuratively) 'to gather, revolve, or turn around' is
criticized by many authorities, though used by good writers,
e.g. A rather restless, cultureless life, centring round tinned
food, Picture Post, the radio and the internal combustion engine
(George Orwell). It can be avoided by using to be centred in or
on, e.g. My universe was still centred in my mother's fragrant
person (Richard Church).
century. Strictly, since the first century ran from the year 1 to the
year 100, the first year of a given century should be that
ending in the digits 0l, and the last year of the preceding
century should be the year before, ending in two noughts.
° In popular usage, understandably, the reference of these terms
has been moved back one year, so that one will expect the
twenty-first century to run from 2000 to 2099. Beware of
ambiguity in their written use.
The use of this word after an adjective as a substitute for an
abstract-noun termination (-ness, -ty, or the like), or for the
word kind, devalues it and should be avoided, e.g. the
uniqueness and antiquity of the fabric, not the unique and
ancient character of the fabric.
charisma (1) Properly, a theological word (plural charismata) designating
any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see I Corinthians 12). (2)
In general use (usually as a mass noun, with no plural), a term
(drawn from the works of the German sociologist Max Weber) for
the capacity to inspire followers with devotion and enthusiasm.
(1) Designating a Christian movement that lays stress on the
charismata. (2) Generally, 'having the capacity to inspire with
devotion and enthusiasm', e.g. A forcefully charismatic hero
compensating in physical presence for what he politically lacks
this construction and choice between, are normally followed by
and in written English; informally or is sometimes used, e.g.
The poorest girl alive may not be able to choose between being
Queen of England or Principal of Newnham; but she can choose
between ragpicking and flowerselling (G. B. Shaw).
chronic is used of a disease that is long-lasting, though its
manifestations may be intermittent (the opposite is acute
'coming sharply to a crisis'); it is used in much the same way
of other conditions, e.g. The chronic unemployment of the
nineteen-twenties (A. J. P. Taylor); The commodities of which
there is a chronic shortage (George Orwell).
° The sense 'objectionable, bad, severe' is very informal.
is followed by with in sense (1) of compare and by to in sense
(2). The latter is much the more usual use, e.g. The little
wooden crib-figures...were by no means comparable to the
mass-produced figures (Muriel Spark).
compare. In formal use, the following distinctions of sense are made:
(1) 'Make a comparison of x with y', followed by with, e.g.
You've got to compare method with method, and ideal with ideal
(John le Carr‚).
(2)'Say to be similar to, liken to', followed by to, e.g. To
call a bishop a mitred fool and compare him to a mouse (G. B.
(3) Intransitively, = 'to be compared', followed by with, e.g.
None can compare with thee (NEB). ° Compare with is loosely
used in sense (2); the senses overlap, e.g. How can you compare
the Brigadier with my father? (John Osborne). Conversely, in
the separate clause (as) compared with or to x, only sense (1)
is possible, but to occurs as well as with, e.g.
Tarzan...bewails his human ugliness as compared to the beauty of
the apes (Tom Stoppard); Earth is tractable stuff compared with
coal (George Orwell).
is usually followed by with, especially in by or in comparison
with. It is followed by to when the sense is 'the action of
likening (to)', e.g. The comparison of philosophy to a yelping
disposed to please others or comply with others' wishes; noun
complaisance, e.g. The indulgent complaisance which Horace did
not bother to disguise (Frederic Raphael).
° Do not confuse with complacent self-satisfied (noun
compose can be used to mean 'constitute, make up' with the constituents
as subject and the whole as object, e.g. The tribes which
composed the German nation. It is more commonly used in the
passive with the whole as subject and the constituents as
object, e.g. His...face was composed of little layers of flesh
like pallid fungus (Iris Murdoch).
comprise. The proper constructions with comprise are the converse of those
used with compose. (1) In the active, meaning 'consist of', with
the whole as subject and the constituents as objects, e.g. The
faculty comprises the following six departments.
° In sense (1), comprise differs from consist in not being
followed by of. Unlike include, comprise indicates a
comprehensive statement of constituents.
(2) In the passive, meaning 'to be embraced or comprehended in',
with the constituents as subject and the whole as object, e.g.
Fifty American dollars comprised in a single note (Graham
° Comprise is often used as a synonym of compose, e.g. The
twenty-odd children who now comprise the school (Miss Read).
This is regarded as incorrect by many people. It is especially
objectionable in the passive, since comprise is not followed by
of; write The faculty is composed (not comprised) of six
condole, to express sympathy, is always followed by with, e.g. Many...had
come...to condole with them on their brother's death (NEB).
° Do not confuse with console 'to comfort', followed by direct
object, e.g. Console one another...with these words (NEB).
conduce, to lead or contribute (to a result), is always followed by to;
similarly conducive (adjective); e.g. The enterprise was
popular, since it conduced to cut price jobs (J. I. M. Stewart).
conform may be followed by to or with, e.g. The United Nations...
conformed to Anglo-American plans (A. J. P. Taylor); Having
himself no particular opinions or tastes he relied upon whatever
conformed with those of his companion (John le Carr‚).
a collection of things massed together, is a singular noun, e.g.
A congeries of halls and inns on the site (J. I. M. Stewart); it
is unchanged in the plural.
° The form congery, formed in the misapprehension that congeries
is plural only, is erroneous.
Connote means 'to imply in addition to the primary meaning, to
imply as a consequence or condition', e.g. Literature has needed
to learn how to exploit all the connotations that lie latent in
a word (Anthony Burgess).
Denote means 'to be the sign of, indicate, signify', e.g. A
proper name will convey no information beyond the bare fact that
it denotes a person (Stephen Ullman).
° The two terms are kept rigidly distinct in Logic, but in
popular usage connote is frequently used to mean 'convey to the
mind', or 'mean in actual use' and hence verges on the sense of
denote. Denote cannot be used in the senses of connote, e.g. in
His silence does not connote hesitation (Iris Murdoch).
following as a result, adverb consequently, e.g. Two engaged in
a common pursuit do not consequently share personal identity
(Muriel Spark). These are nearly always to be used rather than
consequential 'following as an indirect result' and
consequentially, which are rarer and more specialized.
consist consist of = be composed of, made up of; consist in = have as
its essential quality, e.g. All enjoyment consists in undetected
sinning (G. B. Shaw).
always happening, very frequent and without cessation;
continuous, connected, unbroken, uninterrupted; similarly the
adverbs; e.g. He was continually sending Tiberius not very
helpful military advice (Robert Graves); There was a continuous
rattle from the one-armed bandits (Graham Greene).
The former relates mainly to the intransitive senses of continue
(to be still in existence), the latter to its transitive senses
(to keep up, to resume), e.g. The great question of our
continuance after death (J. S. Huxley); As if contemplating a
continuation of her assault (William Trevor).
cousin (1) The children of brothers or sisters are first cousins to
each other. (2) The children of first cousins are second cousins
to each other. (3) The child of one's first cousin, and the
first cousin of one's parent, is one's first cousin once
removed. (4) The grandchild of one's first cousin, or the first
cousin of one's grandparent, is one's first cousin twice
removed; and so on. (5) Cousin-german = first cousin.
credible, able to be believed.
° Do not confuse with credulous, too ready to believe things, as
e.g. in Even if one is credible (correctly credulous) enough to
believe in their ability (Daily Telegraph).
used figuratively, means 'a progressive increase in force or
effect'. Do not use it when climax is meant, e.g. in The storm
reached a crescendo (correctly a climax) at midnight.
criteria is the plural of criterion, not a singular noun.
crucial, decisive, critical, e.g. His medical studies were not merely an
episode in the development of his persona but crucial to it
° The weakened sense 'important' is informal only.
data (1) In scientific, philosophical, and general use usually
considered as a number of items and treated as plural, e.g. Let
us give the name of 'sense-data' to the things which are
immediately known in sensation: such things as colours, sounds,
(etc.) (Bertrand Russell); The optical data are incomplete
(Nature); the singular is datum, e.g. Personality is not a datum
from which we start (C. S. Lewis).
(2) In computing and allied disciplines it is treated as a mass
noun (i.e. a collective item), and used with words like this,
that, and much, and with singular verbs; it is sometimes so
treated in general use, e.g. Useful data has been obtained
° Some people object to use (2).
° Data is not a singular countable noun and therefore cannotbe
preceded by a, every, each, either, neither, and cannot be given
a plural form datas.
Decidedly, definitely; undoubtedly, e.g. The bungalow had a
decidedly English appearance (Muriel Spark). Decisively (1)
conclusively, so as to decide the question, e.g. The definition
of 'capital' itself depends decisively on the level of
technology employed (E. F. Schumacher); (2) resolutely,
unhesitatingly, e.g. The young lady, whose taste has to be
considered, decisively objected to him (G. B. Shaw).
decimate, (originally) to kill or destroy one in every ten of; (now
usually) to destroy or remove a large proportion of, e.g. All my
parents' friends, my friends' brothers were getting killed. Our
circle was decimated (Rosamond Lehmann).
° Decimate does not mean 'defeat utterly'.
decline (verb: to refuse an invitation) has no derived noun; we have to
make do with refusal if declining cannot be used.
decisive, unconditional, final; (of an edition) authoritative;
e.g. The Gold Cup flat handicap, the official and definitive
result of which he had read in the Evening Telegraph (James
° Do not use instead of definite (= having exact limits,
distinct, precise); it cannot replace the latter in We finally
received a definite no.
A general distinction can be drawn, though it is not absolute.
Delusion would naturally occur in psychiatric contexts, and is
used similarly outside them, to denote a false idea, impression,
or belief held tenaciously, arising mainly from the internal
workings of the mind; e.g. delusions of grandeur, and He's been
sent here for delusions. His most serious delusion is that he's
a murderer (Robert Graves).
Illusion denotes a false impression derived either from the
external world, e.g. optical illusion, and A partition making
two tiny boxes, giving at least the illusion of privacy (Doris
Lessing), or from faulty thinking, e.g. I still imagine I could
live in Rome, but it may be an illusion (Iris Murdoch).
It is in this second sense that illusion is almost equivalent to
delusion; cf. I hope to strike some small blows for what I
believe to be right, but I have no delusions that knock-outs are
likely (Frederic Raphael). It should be remembered that delusion
carries the sense of being deluded (by oneself or another),
whereas no verb is implied in illusion; on the other hand, one
can be said to be disillusioned, whereas delusion forms no such
demean (1) Demean oneself = conduct oneself (usually with adverbial
expression), e.g. Even on the scaffold he demeaned himself with
dignity. (2) Demean (someone or something) = lower in status,
especially with oneself, e.g. Their nobles would not demean
themselves to serve their governor (NEB).
denote: see connote.
depend, to be contingent on (a condition or cause), is followed by on or
° The use of it depends followed, without on or upon, by an
interrogative clause, is informal only, e.g. It depends what you
have.. in mind in forming a library of gramophone records
whether you think it worth acquiring (The Times).
Depreciate (1) to make or become lower in value; (2) to
belittle, disparage, e.g. To defend our record we seem forced to
depreciate the Africans (Listener); To become a little more
forthcoming and less self- depreciating (Richard Adams).
Deprecate (1) (with a plan, proceeding, purpose, etc. as the
object) to express a wish against or disapproval of, e.g. I
deprecate this extreme course, because it is good neither for my
pocket nor for their own souls (G. B. Shaw); Polly.. patted her
father's head in deprecation of such forcible metaphor (Anthony
(2) (with a person as the object) to express disapproval of, to
reprove; to disparage, e.g. Anyone who has reprinted his reviews
is in no position to deprecate our reprinter (Christopher
° Sense (2) of deprecate tends to take on the sense of
depreciate (2), especially in conjunction with self. This use
is frequently found in good writers, e.g. A humorous
self-deprecation about one's own advancing senility (Aldous
Huxley); The old, self-deprecating expression (Susan Hill). It
is, however, widely regarded as incorrect.
derisive = scoffing; derisory = (1) scoffing, (2) so small or unimportant
as to be ridiculous (now the more usual sense), e.g. A
part...once looked upon as discreditable and derisory (Anthony
dialect (form of speech) forms dialectal as its adjective; dialectic
(form of reasoning) can be adjective as well as noun, or can
have dialectical as its adjective.
dice is the normal singular as well as the plural (one dice, two
dice); the old singular, die, is found only in the die is cast,
straight (or true) as a die, and in mathematical discussions,
e.g. Rolling a die will generate a stream of random numbers.
dichotomy in non-technical use means 'differentiation into contrasting
categories' and is frequently followed by between, e.g. An
absolute dichotomy between science and reason on the one hand
and faith and poetry on the other.
° It does not mean dilemma or ambivalence.
die (noun): see dice.
different can be followed by from to or than.
(1) Different from is the most usual expression in both written
and spoken English; it is the most favoured by good writers, and
is acceptable in all contexts, e.g. It is also an 'important'
book, in a sense different from the sense in which that word is
generally used (George Orwell).
(2) Different to is common informally. It sometimes sounds more
natural than different from, and should then be used; e.g. when
yoked with similar and followed by a phrase introduced by to:
His looks are neither especially similar nor markedly different
to those of his twin brother.
(3) Different than is an established idiom in American English,
but is not uncommon in British use, e.g. Both came from a
different world than the housing estate outside London (Doris
Lessing). Both different to and different than are especially
valuable as a means of avoiding the repetition and the relative
construction required after different from in sentences like I
was a very different man in 1935 from what I was in 1916 (Joyce
Cary). This could be recast as I was a very different man in
1935 than I was in 1916 or than in 1916. Compare The American
theatre, which is suffering from a different malaise than ours,
which is greatly preferable to suffering from a different
malaise from that which ours is suffering from.
This construction is especially common when different is part of
an adverbial clause (e.g. in a different way) or when the adverb
differently is used, and has been employed by good writers since
the seventeenth century, e.g. Things were constructed very
differently now than in former times (Trollope); Sebastian was a
drunkard in quite a different sense to myself (Evelyn Waugh);
Puts one in a different position to your own father (John
a technical term Mathematics, an abbreviation for differential
gear, or a term for a maintained difference in wage between
groups of workers.
° It is not a synonym for difference.
digraph = a group of two letter standing for a single sound, e.g. ea in
head, gh in cough; ligature = a typographical symbol consisting
of two letters joined together, e.g. fi, fl. The term diphthong
is best restricted to the sense for which there is no synonym,
namely 'a union of two vowels pronounced in one syllable', which
is something primarily spoken and heard, not written; i in find,
ei in rein, and eau in bureau all represent diphthongs. One
cause of confusion is that Latin had two diphthongs (ae and oe)
often printed as ligatures ‘ and oe in English words derived
from Latin these are now digraphs ‘ and oe (sometimes modified
into e: see "ae and oe" in topic 1.4 representing single vowel
dilemma (1) A choice between two (or sometimes more than two)
undesirable or awkward alternatives, e.g. The unpleasant dilemma
of being obliged either to kill the father or give up the
daughter. (2) More loosely, a perplexing situation in which a
choice has to be made, e.g. The dilemma of the 1960s about
whether nice girls should sleep with men (Alan Watkins).
° It is not merely a synonym for problem.
direct is used as an adverb in two of the main senses of the adjective:
(1) straight, e.g. Another door led direct to the house (Evelyn
Waugh); (2) without intermediaries, e.g. I appeal now, over your
head, direct to the august oracle (G. B. Shaw).
directly is used in most of the main senses of the adjective, e.g. Why
don't you deal directly with the wholesalers? (G. B. Shaw); The
wind is blowing directly on shore; directly opposite, opposed.
° It is not usually used to mean 'straight', since it has an
extra sense, used in similar contexts, 'immediately, without
delay', e.g. Just a night in London--I'll be back directly
to thwart, disconcert; similarly discomfiture; e.g. He
discomfited his opponents by obliging them to disagree with a
great logician (Frederic Raphael).
° Do not confuse with discomfort (now rare as a verb, = make
lack of interest, indifference, e.g. Buried the world under a
heavy snowfall of disinterest (Christopher Fry).
° The use of disinterest in this sense may be objected to on the
same grounds as sense (2) of disinterested; but the word is
rarely used in any other sense, and the possible alternative
uninterest is very rare indeed.
(1) Impartial, unbiased, e.g. Thanks to his scientific mind he
understood--a proof of disinterested intelligence which had
pleased her (Virginia Woolf). The noun is disinterestedness.
(2) Uninterested, indifferent, e.g. It is not that we are
disinterested in these subjects, but that we are better
qualified to talk about our own interests (The Times). The noun
° Sense (2) is common in informal use, but is widely regarded as
incorrect and is avoided by careful writers, who prefer
disposal is the noun from dispose of (get off one's hands, deal with);
disposition is the noun from dispose (arrange, incline).
serving to distinguish, characteristic, e.g. It had smelled like
this soap today, a light, entirely distinctive smell (Susan
° Do not confuse with distinct, separate, individual, definite,
e.g. Trying to put into words an impression that was not
distinct in my own mind (W. Somerset Maugham).
In older and literary usage, the predicative and attributive
forms respectively; now usually allocated to distinct senses,
namely 'intoxicated' and 'given to drink', e.g. They were lazy,
irresponsible, and drunken; but on this occasion they were not
drunk. Drunken also means 'caused by or exhibiting drunkenness',
e.g. a drunken brawl.
due to (1) That ought to be given to, e.g. Pay Caesar what is due to
Caesar (NEB). (2) To be ascribed to, e.g. Half the diseases of
modern civilization are due to starvation of the affections in
the young (G. B. Shaw). Due is here an adjective with a
complementary prepositional phrase, like liable (to), subject
(to). As an adjective it needs to be attached to a noun as
complement (see example above), or as part of a verbless
adjective clause, e.g. A few days' temporary absence of mind due
to sunstroke was...nothing to worry about (Muriel Spark).
(3) = owing to. A sentence conforming to type (2) above like He
suffered a few days' absence of mind due to sunstroke can be
equated with He suffered a few days' absence of mind, owing to
sunstroke. In this way due to has borrowed from owing to the
status of independent compound preposition, a use not uncommon
even with good writers, e.g. It...didn't begin until twenty past
due to a hitch (William Trevor); Due to an unlikely run of
nineteens and zeros, I gained the equivalent of three hundred
pounds (Graham Greene).
° The use of due to as a compound preposition is widely regarded
as unacceptable. It can often be avoided by the addition of the
verb to be and that, e.g. It is due to your provident care
that...improvements are being made (NEB).
effect: see affect.
E.g. (short for Latin exempli gratia) = for example, for
instance; it introduces one or more typical examples of what
precedes it: Many countries of Asia, e.g. India, Indonesia, and
Malaysia, were once ruled by European powers. I.e. (short for
Latin id est) = that is; it introduces an amplification or
explanation of what precedes it: It was natural that the largest
nation (i.e. India) should take the lead; The United States
presence, i.e. the maintenance of American military personnel,
in south-east Asia.
egoism, -ist(ic), egotism, -ist(ic).
Egoism is the term used in Philosophy and Psychology, and
denotes self-interest (often contrasted with altruism), e.g.
Egoistic instincts concerned with self-preservation or the good
of the Ego (Gilbert Murray). Egotism is the practice of talking
or thinking excessively about oneself, self-centredness, e.g. He
is petty, selfish, vain, egotistical; he is spoilt; he is a
tyrant (Virginia Woolf).
° In practice the senses tend to merge, e.g. Human loves don't
last, ...they are far too egoistic (Iris Murdoch); A complete
egotist in all his dealings with women (Joyce Gary).
remarkable in a bad sense; gross, outrageous; used mainly with
words like ass, impostor, liar, blunder, folly, waste, e.g. Wark
tenderly forgives her most egregious clerical errors (Martin
either (adjective and pronoun). (1) One or other of the two, e.g.
Simple explanations are for simple minds. I've no use for
either (Joe Orton). (2) Each of the two, e.g. Every few
kilometres on either side of the road, there were Haitian and
Dominican guard-posts (Graham Greene).
° Either is frequently used in sense (2), in preference to each,
with reference to a thing that comes naturally in a pair, e.g.
end, hand, side. This use is sometimes ignorantly condemned but
is both the older sense of either and commonly found in good
writers of all periods.
elder (adjective) the earlier-born (of two related or indicated
persons), e.g. The first and elder wife...returned...to Jericho
(Muriel Spark); He is my elder by ten years. Eldest first-born
or oldest surviving (member of family, son, daughter, etc.).
elusive (rather than elusory) is the usual adjective related to elude;
illusory (rather than illusive) is the usual adjective related
enjoin: one can enjoin an action, etc., on someone, or enjoin someone to
do something; the former is more usual; e.g. To...enjoin
celibacy on its laity as well as on its clergy and That enables
and enjoins the citizen to earn his own living (G. B. Shaw).
enormity (1) Great wickedness (of something), e.g. Hugh was made entirely
speechless...by the enormity of the proposal (Iris Murdoch); a
serious crime or offence, e.g. They had met to pass sentence on
Wingfield for his enormities (David Garnett).
(2) Enormousness, e.g. The war in its entire magnitude did not
exist for the average civilian... The enormity of it was quite
beyond most of us (G. B. Shaw).
° Sense (2) is commonly found, but is regarded by many people as
enthuse, to show or fill with enthusiasm, is chiefly informal.
° equally as
(+ adjective) should not be used for equally, e.g. in How to
apply it in a calm, unruffled manner was equally as important
(G. F. Newman), or for as, e.g. The Government are equally as
guilty as the Opposition.
event: in the event of is followed by a noun or gerund, e.g. In the
event of the earl's death, the title will lapse.
° In the event that, treated as a compound conjunction, is
ungainly and avoided by good writers; it is even worse with that
omitted, e.g. In the event the car overturns.
ever. When placed after a wh-question word in order to intensify it,
ever should be written separately, e.g. Where ever have you
been?, when ever is he coming?, who ever would have thought it?,
why ever did you do it?, how ever shall I escape? When used with
a relative pronoun or adverb to give it indefinite or general
force, ever is written as one word with it, e.g. Wherever you
go I'll follow; whenever he washes up he breaks something;
there's a reward for whoever (not whomever) finds it; whatever
else you do, don't get lost; however it's done, it's difficult.
Evidence (verb), to serve as evidence for the existence or truth
of, e.g. There was an innate refinement...about Gerty which was
unmistakably evidenced in her delicate hands (James Joyce).
Evince, to show that one has a (hidden or unseen) quality, e.g.
Highly evolved sentiments and needs (sometimes said to be
distinctively human, though birds and animals... evince them)
(G. B. Shaw).
° Evince should not be confused with evoke to call up (a
response, a feeling, etc.), e.g. A timely and generous act which
evoked afresh outburst of emotion (James Joyce).
extremely; excessively, beyond measure, immoderately, e.g. The
excessively rational terms employed by people with a secret
panic (Muriel Spark).
excepting (preposition) is only used after not and always.
to which exception may be taken; unexceptionable with which no
fault may be found, e.g. The opposite claim would seem to him
unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it (George Orwell).
° Do not confuse with (un)exceptional, that is (not) an
excess. In excess of 'to a greater amount or degree than' forms an
° Prefer more than where the phrase qualified is the subject or
object, e.g. in The Data Centre, which processes in excess of
1200 jobs per week.
expect (1) in the sense 'suppose, think' is informal; (2) see
Explicit, distinctly expressing all that is meant, leaving
nothing implied, e.g. I had been too tactful,... too vague...But
I now saw that I ought to have been more explicit (Iris
Murdoch); express, definite, unmistakable in import, e.g.
Idolatry fulsome enough to irritate Jonson into an express
disavowal of it (G. B. Shaw).
may be use figuratively to mean 'being made subject (to an
influence, etc.)' but should not be used for experience (of),
e.g. in Candidates who have had exposure to North American
express (adjective): see explicit
facility in the sense 'ease in doing something', e.g. I knew that I had a
facility with words (George Orwell), should not be confused with
a similar sense of faculty, viz. 'a particular kind of ability',
e.g. Hess...had that odd faculty, peculiar to lunatics, of
falling into strained positions (Rebecca West).
factious: see fractious.
made for a special purpose; not natural; artificial; e.g. Heroic
tragedy is decadent because it is factitious; it substitutes
violent emotionalism for emotion (and) the purple patch for
poetry (L. C. Knights); fictitious, feigned, simulated;
imaginary, e.g. Afraid of being suspected, he gave a fictitious
account of his movements.
though originally interchangeable with further, furthest, these
words are now only used where the sense of 'distance' is
involved, e.g. One whose actual dwelling lay presumably amid the
farther mysteries of the cosmos (J. I. M. Stewart).
° Even in this sense many people prefer further, furthest.
feasible capable of being done, achieved, or dealt with, e.g. Young
people believing that niceness and innocence are politically as
well as morally feasible (J. I. M. Stewart).
° It is sometimes used to mean 'possible' or 'probable'; but
whichever of these two words is appropriate should be used
fewer: see less.
easily set on fire; preferable as a warning of danger to
inflammable, which may be mistaken for a negative (= not easily
set on fire). The real negatives are non-flammable and
flaunt, to display proudly or ostentatiously, e.g. The wicked flaunt
themselves on every side (NEB); As though to defy reason, as
though to flaunt a divine indestructibility, the question will
not go away: is God? (Tom Stoppard).
° Do not confuse with flout 'to disobey openly and scornfully',
e.g. His deliberate flouting of one still supposedly iron rule
(Frederic Raphael): flout should have been used by the public
figure reported as having said Those wanting to flaunt the
policy would recognize that public opinion was not behind them.
as a sequel to, consequent on, is used in two ways. (1)
Properly, as an adjective, dependent on a preceding noun, e.g.
During demonstrations following the hanging of two British
soldiers. (2) By extension, as an independent quasi-preposition,
e.g. The prologue was written by the company following an
incident witnessed by them.
° Many people regard use (2) as erroneous (cf. due to (3)). It
can also give rise to ambiguity, e.g. Police arrested a man
following the hunt. In any case, following should not be used as
a mere synonym for after (e.g. Following supper they went to
for: The subject of a clause of which the verb is the to-infinitive
is normally preceded by for, e.g. For him to stay elsewhere is
unthinkable (contrast that he should stay elsewhere...) But if
the clause is a direct object in a main sentence, for is
omitted: hence I could not bear for him to stay elsewhere.
(Daily Mail) is non-standard.
forensic (1) of or used in courts of law, e.g. forensic medicine,
forensic science; (2) of or involving forensic science, e.g. An
object which has been sent for forensic examination.
° Sense (2) is often deplored as an illogical extension, but is
When referring the first (last) of three or more, the first (the
last) should he used, not the former (the latter).
means 'happening by chance, accidental', e.g. His presence is
not fortuitous. He has a role to play (Andr‚ Brink).
° It does not mean either 'fortunate' or 'timely', as
(incorrectly) in He could not believe it. It was too fortuitous
to be chance.
unruly; peevish; e.g Block tackle and a strangling pully will
bring your lion to heel, no matter how fractious (James Joyce).
° Do not confuse with factious 'given to, or proceeding from,
faction', e.g. In spite of such a divisive past and a fractious
(correctly, factious) present (New York Times).
fruition, fulfilment, especially in the phrase be brought to, come to,
grow to, reach, etc. fruition, once stigmatized as a misuse, is
fulsome is a pejorative term, applied to nouns such as flattery,
servility, affection, etc., and means 'cloying, excessive,
disgusting by excess', e.g. They listened to fulsome speeches,
doggedly translated by a wilting Olga Fiodorovna (Beryl
° Fulsome is not now regarded as a synonym of copious, though
this was its original meaning.
see farther, farthest.
geriatric means 'pertaining to the health and welfare of the elderly'; it
is incorrect to use it as a synonym of senile or elderly, or as
a noun meaning 'elderly or senile person'.
gourmand, glutton; gourmet, connoisseur of good food.
graffiti is the plural of graffito; it is not a singular mass noun.
half. The use of half in expressions of time to mean half-past is
indigenous to Britain and has been remarked on since the 1930s,
e.g. We'd easily get the half-five bus (William Trevor); it is
to be distinguished from the use of half + the succeeding hour
(i.e. half-nine = half-past eight) in parts of Scotland and
Ireland. It remains non-standard.
hardly (1) Hardly is not used with negative constructions.
° Expressions like Without hardly a word of comment (substitute
with hardly or almost without a word..) and I couldn't hardly
tell what he meant (substitute I could hardly tell...) are
(2) Hardly and scarcely are followed by when or before, not
than, e.g. Hardly had Grimes left the house when a tall young
man...presented himself at the front door (Evelyn Waugh).
one whose right of inheritance cannot be superseded by the birth
of another heir; as opposed to an heir presumptive, whose right
can be so superseded.
° Heir apparent does not mean 'seeming heir'.
help. More than, or as little as, one can help are illogical but
established idioms, e.g. They will not respect more than they
can help treaties extracted from them under duress (Winston
can be preceded by the, even though hoi represents the Greek
definite article, e.g. The screens with which working
archaeologists baffle the hoi polloi (Frederic Raphael).
is a frequent error for homogeneous, and is probably due partly
to the form of the related verb homogenize. A word homogenous
exists, but has a technical meaning that is quite different and
very restricted in its use. Homogeneous means 'of the same kind,
uniform', e.g. The style throughout was homogeneous but the
authors' names were multiform (Evelyn Waugh).
These adverbs are used in two ways: (1) As adverbs of manner =
'in a hopeful/thankful way', 'with hope/gratitude', e.g. The
prevailing mentality of that deluded time was still hopefully
parliamentary (G. B. Shaw); When it thankfully dawned on her
that the travel agency would be open (Muriel Spark). (2) As
sentence adverbs, outside the clause structure and conveying the
speaker's comment on the statement, e.g. Hopefully they will be
available in the autumn (Guardian); The editor, thankfully, has
left them as they were written (TLS).
° Use (2) is widely regarded as unacceptable. The main reason
is that other commenting sentence adverbs, such as regrettably,
fortunately, etc., can be converted to the form it is
regrettable, fortunate, etc., that--, but these are to be
resolved as it is to be hoped or one hopes that-- and one is
thankful that--., (The same objection could be, but is not, made
to happily and unhappily which mean one is (un)happy not it is
(un)happy that--, e.g. in Unhappily children do hurt flies (Jean
Rhys).) A further objection is that absurdity or ambiguity can
arise from the interplay of senses (1) and (2), e.g. There is
also a screen, hopefully forming a backdrop to the whole stage
(Tom Stoppard); Any decision to trust Egypt...and move forward
hopefully toward peace... in the Middle East (Guardian Weekly).
This use of hopefully probably arose as a translation of German
hoffentlich, used in the same way, and first became popular in
America in the late 196Os; the same American provenance, but not
the German, holds good for thankfully. It is recommended that
sense (2) should be restricted to informal contexts.
i.e.: see e.g., i.e.
if in certain constructions (usually linking two adjectives or
adverbs that qualify the same noun or verb) can be ambiguous,
e.g. A great play, if not the greatest, by this author.
° It is best to paraphrase such sentences as, e.g., either A
great play, though not the greatest by this author or A great
play, perhaps (or very nearly) the greatest by this author.
ignorant is better followed by of than by about, e.g. Is this famous
teacher of Israel ignorant of such things? (NEB).
ilk. Of that ilk is a Scots term, meaning 'of the same place,
territorial designation, or name', e.g. Wemyss of that ilk =
Wemyss of Wemyss.
° By a misunderstanding ilk has come to mean 'sort, lot'
(usually pejorative), e.g. Joan Baez and other vocalists of that
ilk (David Lodge). This should be avoided in formal English.
ill used predicatively = 'unwell'; sick used predicatively = 'about
to or likely to vomit, in the act of vomiting', e.g. I felt
sick; I was violently sick; used attributively = 'unwell', e.g.
a sick man, except in collocations like sick bay, sick leave.
° It is non-standard to use ill predicatively for 'in the act of
vomiting' or sick predicatively for 'unwell' (though the latter
is standard Amer.), except in the phrase off sick 'away on sick
illusion: see delusion.
illusory: see elusive.
impact used figuratively, is best confined to contexts in which someone
or something is imagined as striking another, e.g. The most
dynamic colour combination if used too often loses its impact
(i.e., on the eye). It is weakened if used as a mere synonym for
effect, impression, or influence.
The total resistance of an electric circuit to the flow of
° Do not confuse with impediment, a hindrance, a defect (in
speech, etc.), e.g. Convinced of the existence of a serious
impediment to his marriage (Evelyn Waugh).
Imply (1) to involve the truth or existence of; (2) to express
indirectly, insinuate, hint at. Infer (1) to reach (an opinion),
deduce, from facts and reasoning, e.g. She left it to my
intelligence to infer her meaning. I inferred it all right (W.
Somerset Maugham); He is a philosopher's God, logically inferred
from self-evident premises (Tom Stoppard). (2) = imply, sense
(2), e.g. I have inferred once, and I repeat, that Limehouse is
the most overrated excitement in London (H. V. Morton).
° Sense (2) of infer is generally unacceptable, since it is the
reverse of the primary sense of the verb.
official licence to print.
° Do not confuse with imprint, the name of the
publisher/printer, place of publication/printing, etc., on the
title-page or at the end of a book.
Inapt = 'not apt', 'unsuitable'; inept = (1) without aptitude,
unskilful, e.g. Fox-trots and quicksteps, at which he had been
so inept (David Lodge); (2) inappropriate, e.g. Not much less
than famous for looking ineptly dressed (Anthony Powell); (3)
absurd, silly, e.g. Here l was, awkward and tongue-tied, and all
the time in danger of saying something inept or even rude
inchoate means 'just begun, underdeveloped', e.g. Trying to give his work
a finished look--and all the time it's pathetically
obvious...that the stuff's fatally inchoate (John Wain).
° It does not mean chaotic or incoherent.
include: see comprise (1)
is an imprecise, often inappropriate, and sometimes socially
divisive expression. If possible, use strike, work-to-rule,
overtime ban, etc., as appropriate.
infer: see imply
One inflicts something on someone or afflicts someone with
something; something is inflicted on one, or one is afflicted
° Do not use inflict with where afflict with is meant, e.g. in
The miners are still out, and industry is inflicted (correctly,
afflicted) with a kind of creeping paralysis.
insignia is a plural noun, e.g Fourteen different airline insignia (David
Lodge); its singular, rarely encountered, is insigne.
a blend of insinuation and innuendo, at best only jocular.
intense, existing, having some quality, in a high degree, e.g. The
intense evening sunshine (Iris Murdoch); intensive employing
much effort, concentrated, e.g. Intensive care; The intensive
geological surveys of the Sahara (Margaret Drabble).
interface (noun) (1) A surface forming a common boundary between two
regions, e.g. The concepts of surface tension apply to the
interfaces between solid and solid, solid and liquid (etc.).
(2) A piece of equipment in which interaction occurs between two
systems, processes, etc., e.g. Modular interfaces can easily be
designed to adapt the general-purpose computer to the equipment.
(3) A point or area of interaction between two systems,
organizations, or disciplines, e.g. The interface between
physics and music is of direct relevance to...the psychological
effects of hearing (Nature).
° Sense (3) is widely regarded as unacceptable, since it is
often debased into a high-sounding synonym for boundary,
meeting-point, interaction, liaison, link, etc., e.g. The need
for the interface of lecturer and student will diminish.
interface (verb), to connect (equipment) with (equipment) by means of an
interface; (of equipment) to be connected by an interface; e.g.
A multiplexed analog-to-digital converter interfaced to a PDP
11-40 computer (Lancet).
° Interface should not be used as a synonym for interact (with),
as, e.g., in The ideal candidate will have the ability to
interface effectively with the heads of staff of various
confinement (from verb intern).
° Do not confuse with interment, burial (from verb inter).
into: it is common informally, but incorrect in formal prose, to use
in where into is required, especially after verbs of motion,
e.g. Practically knocked me over in his eagerness to get in the
house (David Lodge).
invite (noun = 'invitation'), although over three centuries old,
remains informal (and somewhat non-standard) only.
ironic, ironical, ironically.
The noun irony can mean (1) a way of speaking in which the
intended meaning (for those with insight) is the opposite to, or
very different from, that expressed by the words used (and
apprehended by the victim of the irony); or (2) a condition of
affairs or events that is the opposite of what might be
expected, especially when the outcome of an action appears as if
it is in mockery of the agent's intention. The adjectives
ironic, ironical, and the adverb ironically are commonly used in
sense (1) of irony, e.g. Ironical silent apology for the
absence of naked women and tanks of gin from the amenities
(Kingsley Amis). They are also frequently found in sense (2),
e.g. The outcome was ironic. The expenditure of British treasure
served to rearm the United States rather than to strengthen
Great Britain (A. J. P. Taylor); The fact that after all she
had been faithful to me was ironic (Graham Greene).
° Some people object to this use, especially when ironically is
used to introduce a trivial oddity, e.g. It was ironic that he
thought himself locked out when the key was in his pocket all
kind of, sort of
(1) A kind of, sort of should not be followed by a before the
noun, e.g. a kind of shock, not a kind of a shock. (2) Kind of,
sort of, etc., followed by a plural noun, are often treated as
plural and qualified by plural words like these, those, or
followed by a plural verb, e.g. They would be on those sort of
terms (Anthony Powell). This is widely regarded as incorrect
except in informal use: substitute that (etc.) kind (or sort)
of or of that kind (or sort), e.g. this kind of car is unpopular
or cars of this kind are unpopular. (3) Kind of, sort of used
adverbially, e.g. I kind of expected it, are informal only.
kudos is a mass noun like glory or fame, e.g. He's made a lot of kudos
out of the strike (Evelyn Waugh).
° It is not a plural noun and there is no singular kudo.
latter: see former.
laudable, praiseworthy, e.g. The Opposition's abstention from criticism of
the Government in this crisis was laudable; laudatory,
expressing praise, e.g. One politician's remarks about another
are not always laudatory.
lay (verb), past laid, = 'put down, arrange', etc. is only
transitive, e.g. Lay her on the bed; They laid her on the bed;
(reflexive, somewhat archaic) I will both lay me down in peace,
and sleep (Authorized Version).
° To use lay intransitively, to mean 'lie', e.g. She wants to
lay down; She was laying on the bed is non-standard, even though
fairly common in spoken English. Cf. lie.
in Law, is a question so worded that it prompts a person to give
the desired answer, e.g. The solicitor...at once asked me some
leading questions...I had to try to be both forthcoming and
discreet (C. P. Snow).
° It does not mean a 'principal' (or 'loaded' or 'searching')
learn with a person as the object, = 'teach' is non-standard, or
occasionally jocular as in I'll learn you.
less (adjective) is the comparative of (a) little, and, like the
latter, is used with mass nouns, e.g. I owe him little duty and
less love (Shakespeare); fewer is the comparative of (a) few,
and both are used with plural countable nouns, e.g. Few people
have their houses broken into; and fewer still have them burnt
(G. B. Shaw).
° Less quite often used informally as the comparative of few,
probably on the analogy of more, which is the comparative both
of much (with mass nouns) and many (with plural countable
nouns), e.g. I wish that they would send less delicacies and
frills and some more plain and substantial things (Susan Hill).
This is regarded as incorrect in formal English.
° Less should not be used as the comparative of small (or some
similar adjective such as low), e.g. a lower price not a less
lesser, not so great as the other or the rest, e.g. He opened The Times
with the rich crackle that drowns all lesser sounds (John
° Lesser should not be used when the meaning is 'not so big' or
'not so large': its opposition to greater is essential. It
cannot replace smaller in A smaller prize will probably be
lest is very formal (in ordinary English, so that...not or in case is
used); it is followed by should or (in exalted style) the
subjunctive, e.g. Lest the eye wander aimlessly, a Doric temple
stood by the water's edge (Evelyn Waugh); Lest some too sudden
gesture or burst of emotion should turn the petals brown
let, to allow (followed by the bare infinitive) is rarely used in the
passive: the effect is usually unidiomatic, e.g. Halfdan's two
sons... are let owe their lives to a trick (Gwyn Jones).
Allowed to is usual.
liable (1) can be followed by to + a noun or noun phrase in the sense
'subject to, likely to suffer from', or by an infinitive; (2)
carries the implication that the action or experience expressed
by the infinitive is undesirable, e.g. Receiving in the bedroom
is liable to get a woman talked about (Tom Stoppard); (3) can
indicate either the mere possibility, or the habituality, of
what is expressed by the verb, e.g. The cruellest question
which a novelist is liable to be asked (Frederic Raphael); The
kind of point that one is always liable to miss (George Orwell).
° The sense 'likely to' is Amer., e.g. Boston is liable to be
the ultimate place for holding the convention. Contrast apt.
lie (verb) past lay, lain, = 'recline' 'be situated', is only
intransitive, e.g. Lie down on the bed; The ship lay at anchor
until yesterday; Her left arm, on which she had lain all night,
° To use lie transitively, to mean 'lay', e.g. Lie her on the
bed is non-standard. The past lay and participle lain are quite
often wrongly used for laid out of over-correctness, e.g. He had
lain this peer's honour in the dust. Cf. lay.
ligature: see digraph.
like, indicating resemblance between two things: (1) It is normally
used as an adjective followed by a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun
(in the objective case), e.g. A man with human frailties like
our own (NEB); He loathes people like you and me (not.. and I).
It can be used to mean 'such as' (introducing a particular
example of a class about which something is said), e.g. With a
strongly patterned dress like that you shouldn't really wear any
jewellery (Iris Murdoch).
° In formal contexts some people prefer such as to be used if
more than one example is mentioned, e.g. British composers such
as Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Britten.
(2) It is often used as a conjunction with a dependent clause,
e.g. Everything went wrong...like it does in dreams (Iris
Murdoch); Not with a starched apron like the others had (Jean
Rhys), or with an adverbial phrase, e.g. With glossy hair,
black, and a nose like on someone historical (Patrick White); It
was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass (Jean Rhys).
° Although this is not uncommon in formal writing, it is often
'condemned as vulgar or slovenly' (OED), and is best avoided,
except informally. Use as, e.g. Are you going to kill me as you
killed the Egyptian? (NEB), or recast the sentence, e.g. A
costume like those that the others wore.
(3) It is often informally used to mean 'as if', e.g. The light
at either end of the tunnel was like you were looking through a
sheet of yellow cellophane (Patrick White); You wake like
someone hit you on the head (T. S. Eliot).
° This use is very informal.
likely (adverb), in the sense 'probably', must be preceded by more,
most, or very, e.g. Its inhabitants...very likely do make that
claim for it (George Orwell).
° The use without the qualifying adverb is Amer., e.g. They'll
likely turn ugly (Eugene O'Neill).
linguist means 'one whose subject is linguistics' as well as 'one skilled
in the use of languages'; there is no other suitable term
(linguistician is disfavoured).
In very informal speech, literally is used as an intensifying
adverb without meaning apart from its emotive force.
° This use should be avoided in writing or formal speech, since
it almost invariably involves absurdity, e.g. The dwarfs
mentioned here are literally within a stone's throw of the Milky
Way (New Scientist). The appropriate use is seen in She emerged,
fully armed, from the head of Zeus who was suffering from a
literally splitting headache (Frederic Raphael).
loan (verb) has some justification where a businesslike loan is in
question, e.g. The gas industry is using a major part of its
profits to benefit the PSBR by loaning money to Government
(Observer). Otherwise it is a needless variant for lend.
locate can mean 'discover the place where someone or somebody is', e.g.
She had located and could usefully excavate her Saharan highland
emporium (Margaret Drabble); it should not be used to mean
lot. A lot of, though somewhat informal, is acceptable in serious
writing; lots of is not.
luncheon is an especially formal variant of lunch; the latter should
normally be used, except in fixed expressions like luncheon
growing profusely, prolific, profuse, exuberant, e.g. His hair
does not seem to have been luxuriant even in its best days (G.
° Do not confuse with luxurious (the adjective relating to
luxury), e.g. The food, which had always been good, was now
luxurious (C. P. Snow).
majority can mean 'the greater number of a countable set', and is then
followed by the plural, e.g. The majority of the plays produced
were failures (G. B. Shaw).
° Great (or huge, vast, etc.) can precede majority in this
sense, e.g. The first thing you gather from the vast majority
of the speakers (C. S. Lewis); but not greater, greatest (since
'more' is already contained in the word).
° Majority is not used to mean 'the greater part of an
uncountable mass', e.g. I was doing most (or the greater part)
of the cooking (not the majority of the cooking).
domineering, e.g. People might say she was tyrannical,
domineering, masterful (Virginia Woolf).
° Do not confuse with masterly, very skilful, e.g. A masterly
compound of friendly argumentation and menace (Iris Murdoch).
maximize, to make as great as possible.
° It should not be used for 'to make as good, easy, (etc). as
possible' or 'to make the most of' as in To maximize customer
service; To maximize this situation.
means (1) Money resources: a plural noun, e.g. You might find out
from Larry...what his means are (G. B. Shaw).
(2) That by which a result is brought about. It may be used
either as a singular noun or as a plural one, without any change
in form, e.g. (singular) The press was, at this time, the only
means of.. influencing opinion at home (A. J. P. Taylor);
(plural) All the time-honoured means of meeting the opposite sex
° Beware of mixing singular and plural, as in The right to
resist by every (singular) means that are (plural) consonant
with the law of God.
media, agency, means (of communication etc.), is a plural noun, e.g.
The communication media inflate language because they dare not
be honest (Anthony Burgess). Its singular is medium (rare except
in mass medium).
° Media cannot be treated as a singular noun or form a plural
medias. Medium (in Spiritualism) forms its plural in -s.
militate: see mitigate.
milliard: see billion.
minimize, to reduce to, or estimate at, the smallest possible amount or
degree, e.g. Each side was inclined to minimize its own losses
° It does not mean lessen and therefore cannot be qualified by
adverbs like greatly.
minority. Large, vast, etc. minority can mean either 'a considerable
number who are yet less than half', or 'a number who are very
much the minority': it is best to avoid the ambiguity.
mitigate, appease, alleviate moderate (usually transitive), e.g. Its heat
mitigated by the strong sea-wind (Anthony Burgess).
° Do not confuse with militate (intransitive) against, to serve
as a strong influence against, e.g. The very fact that Leamas
was a professional could militate against his interests (John le
Carr‚): it is only the idea of countering that they have in
° Do not confuse with moment 'importance', e.g. He has marked
his entrance with an error of some moment (not momentum).
more than one
is followed by a singular verb and is referred back to by
singular pronouns, e.g. More than one popular dancing man
inquired anxiously at his bank (Evelyn Waugh).
motivate, to cause (a person) to act in a particular way.
° It does not mean 'supply a motive, justify', e.g. (wrongly) in
The publisher motivates the slim size of these volumes by
claiming it makes them more likely to be read.
mutual (1) Felt, done, etc., by each to(wards) the other, e.g. The
mutual affection of father and son was rather touching (W.
(2) Standing in a (specified) relation to each other, e.g. Kings
and subjects, mutual foes (Shelley). This sense is now rare.
(3) Common to two (or more) parties, e.g. a mutual friend or
° Sense (3) is acceptable in a small number of collocations,
such as the two indicated, in which common might be ambiguous;
cf. They had already formed a small island of mutual Englishness
(Muriel Spark): common Englishness might imply vulgarity.
Otherwise common is preferable, e.g. in By common (rather than
mutual) consent the Chinese meal had been abandoned.
nature. ° Avoid using adjective + nature as a periphrasis for an
abstract noun, e.g. write The dangerousness of the spot, not The
dangerous nature of the spot.
need (this needs changing, etc.): see want.
In the neighbourhood of is an unnecessarily cumbersome
periphrasis for round about.
neither (adverb). ° It is non-standard to use it instead of either to
strengthen a preceding negative, e.g. There were no books either
normalcy is chiefly Amer.
° Prefer normality.
not only: see only (4).
no way (1) (Initially, followed inversion of verb and subject) = 'not
at all, by no means', e.g. No way will you stop prices or
unemployment going up again (James Callaghan). ° Informal only.
(2) (Emphatic) = 'certainly not', e.g. 'Did you go up in the
elevator?' 'No way.' ° Chiefly Amer.; informal only.
number. A number (of) is constructed with the plural, the number (of)
the singular, e.g. Many of you are feeble and sick, and a number
have died (NEB); The number of men who make a definite
contribution to anything whatsoever is small (Virginia Woolf).
obligate (verb) is in Britain only used in Law.
° There is no gain in using it (as often in Amer. usage) for
in the sense 'unaware of, unconscious of', may be followed by of
or to, e.g. 'When the summer comes,' said Lord Marchmain,
oblivious of the deep corn and swelling fruit.. outside his
windows (Evelyn Waugh); Rose seemed oblivious to individuals
° This sense, which developed from the older sense 'forgetful',
is sometimes censured, but is now fully established in the
of used for have: see of, in topic 1.51 and have in topic 2.31.
off of used for the preposition off e.g. Picked him off of the floor,
one (pronoun) (1) 'any person, the speaker or writer as representing
people in general' has one, one's, and oneself as objective,
possessive, and reflexive forms.
° These forms should be used to point back to a previous use of
one, e.g. One always did, in foreign parts, become friendly with
one's fellow-countrymen more quickly than one did at home
(Muriel Spark). One should not be mixed with he (him, his,
etc.) (acceptable Amer. usage) or we, you, etc.
(2) = single thing or person, following any and every; the
resulting phrase is written as two words and is distinct from
anyone, everyone ( = anybody, everybody), e.g. Any one (of
these) will do; Perhaps every one of my conclusions would be
negatived by other observers (George Orwell).
ongoing has a valid use as adjective meaning 'that goes on', i.e. 'that
is happening and will continue' (just as oncoming means 'that
comes on'), e.g. The refugee problem in our time is an ongoing
problem (Robert Kee).
° The vague or tautologous use of ongoing should be avoided, as
in the clich‚ ongoing situation, or in We have an ongoing
military relationship which we are continuing (Guardian).
only (1) In spoken English, it usual to place only between subject
and verb, e.g. He only saw Bill yesterday: intonation is used to
show whether only limits he, saw, Bill, or yesterday.
(2) It is an established idiom that, in a sentence containing
only + verb + another item, in the absence of special
intonation, only is understood as limiting, not the subject or
verb, but the other item. I only want some water is the natural
way of saying I want only some water. If there is more than one
item following the verb, only often limits the item nearest the
end of the sentence, e.g. A type of mind that can only accept
ideas if they are put in the language he would use himself
(Doris Lessing) ( = only if... ); but not always, e.g. The
captain was a thin unapproachable man...who only appeared once
at table (Graham Greene) ( = only once). This idiom is tacitly
recognized by all good writers, e.g. They only met on the most
formal occasions (C. P. Snow); The contractors were only waiting
for the final signature to start their work of destruction
(Evelyn Waugh); The Nonconformist sects only influenced
minorities (George Orwell).
(3) Despite the idiom described under (2), there are often
sentences in which confusion can arise, e.g. Patrick only talked
as much as he did, which was not as much as all that, to keep
the ball in the air (Kingsley Amis), where at first sight only
might appear to limit he (referring to some other person) but
really limits to keep...air. If confusion or ambiguity is likely
to arise, only should be placed before the item which it limits,
e.g. They sought to convert others only by the fervour of their
sentiments and the earnestness of their example (Frederic
Raphael); The coalminer is second in importance only to the man
who ploughs the soil (George Orwell).
(4) Not only should always be placed next to the item which it
qualifies, and not in the position before the verb. This is a
fairly common slip, e.g. Katherine's marriage not only kept her
away, but at least two of Mr. March's cousins (C. P. Snow); kept
not only her would be better. If placing it before the verb is
inevitable, the verb should be repeated after but (also), e.g.
It not only brings the coal out but brings the roof down as well
In meaning the two words are virtually synonymous. In general,
as opposed to technical, use, orientate seems to be predominant,
but either is acceptable.
can be used where other is an adjective or pronoun, e.g. He was
no other than the rightful lord; The acts of any person other
° Other cannot be treated as an adverb: otherwise than should be
used instead, e.g. in It is impossible to refer to them other
than very cursorily.
out used as a preposition instead of out of, e.g. You should of
[sic] pushed him out the nest long ago (character in work by
Muriel Spark), is non-standard.
(1) = apart from (a sense outside cannot have) is informal only,
e.g. The need of some big belief outside of art (Roger Fry, in a
(2) = beyond the limits of, e.g. The most important such
facility outside of Japan (Gramophone).
° In sense (2) outside alone is preferable: the of is redundant.
° Do not use in the sense 'remaining undetermined, unpaid, etc.'
in contexts where ambiguity with the sense 'eminent, striking'
can arise, e.g. The other outstanding result (in sport).
overly, excessively, too, is still regarded as an unassimilated
Americanism, e.g. Those overly rationalistic readers (TLS).
° Use excessively, too, or over- instead; for not overly, not
very or none too make satisfactory replacements.
overseas (adjective and adverb) is now more usual than oversea.
overview is an Americanism that has not found acceptance in Britain:
survey, review, or outline are adequate substitutes.
owing to, unlike due to, has for long been established as a compound
preposition, e.g. My rooms became uninhabitable, owing to a
burst gas-pipe (C. P. Snow).
° Owing to the fact that should be avoided: use a conjunction
pace means 'despite (someone)'s opinion', e.g. Our civilization, pace
Chesterton, is founded on coal (George Orwell).
° It does not mean 'according to (someone)' or 'notwithstanding
(1) (In technical use especially in Mathematics and Computing)
(roughly) a quantity constant in the case considered, but
varying between different cases.
(2) (In extended use) a defining characteristic, especially one
that can be measured, e.g. The three major parameters of
colour--brightness, hue, and saturation.
(3) (Loosely) a limit or boundary, e.g. The considerable
element of indeterminacy which exists within the parameters of
the parole system (The Times); an aspect or feature, e.g. The
main parameters of the problem.
° Use (3) is a popular dilution of the word's meaning, probably
influenced (at least in the first quotation) by perimeter; it
should be avoided.
parricide refers to the killing of one's father, one's close relative, or
a person regarded as sacred, or to treason; patricide only to
the killing of one's father.
part (on the part of): see behalf.
Apart from the (rare) use of partially to mean 'in a partial or
biased way', these two words are largely interchangeable. Note,
however, that partly... partly is more usual than
partially...partially, e.g. Partly in verse and partly in
peer, as in to have no peer, means 'equal', not 'superior'.
pence is sometimes informally used as a singular, e.g. How Fine Fare,
on lard, is one pence up on Sainsbury's (Malcolm Bradbury).
° This use is very informal. Normally penny should be used in
(informal abbreviation perk) a casual profit, incidental benefit
attaching to an employment, thing to which a person has sole
right, e.g. Free travel by train was a perquisite of railway
° Do not confuse with prerequisite 'something required as a
previous condition (for, of, or to something)', e.g. Her mere
comforting presence beside me which was already a prerequisite
to peaceful sleep (Lynne Reid Banks).
is limited in sense to 'the action of persisting in one's
course', e.g. They made repeated requests for compensation, but
an official apology was the only reward for their persistency;
persistence is sometimes used in that sense, but more often for
'continued existence', e.g. One of the more surprising things
about the life-ways of primitive societies is their persistence
easily understood, clearly expressed; expressing things clearly;
similarly perspicuity; e.g. There is nothing more desirable in
composition than perspicuity (Southey).
° Do not confuse with perspicacious, having or showing insight,
and perspicacity, e.g. Her perspicacity at having guessed his
passion (Vita Sackville-West).
petit bourgeois, petty bourgeois.
The meaning (and with many people, the pronunciation) of these
is the same. If the former is used, the correct French
inflections should be added: petits bourgeois (plural),
petite(s) bourgeoise(s) (feminine (plural)); also petite
bourgeoisie. With petty bourgeois it should be remembered that
the sense of the original French petit is not English petty,
although that may be one of its main connotations.
phenomena is the plural of phenomenon.
° It cannot be used as a singular and cannot form a plural
(of a style of fiction) dealing with the adventures of rogues.
° It does not mean 'transitory' or 'roaming'.
pivotal, being that on which anything pivots or turns, e.g. The pardon
of Richard Nixon was pivotal to those who made up their minds at
the last minute.
° Do not use it merely to mean vital.
plaid, shawl-like garment; tartan, woollen cloth with distinctive
pattern; the pattern itself.
° plus (conjunction) = 'and in addition', is an Amer. colloquialism of
little acceptability, e.g. --have big names at big savings.
Plus you get one year manufacturer's guarantee (Advertisement).
polity, a form of civil government, e.g. A republican polity; a state.
° It does not mean policy or politics.
can mean: (1) Like a portent, ominous, e.g. Fiery-eyed with a
sense of portentous utterance (Muriel Spark). (2) Prodigious,
e.g. Every movement of his portentous frame (James Joyce). (3)
Solemn, ponderous, and somewhat pompous, e.g. Our last
conversation must have sounded to you rather portentous (Iris
Murdoch); A portentous commentary on Holy Scripture (Lord
° Sense (3) is sometimes criticized, but is an established,
slightly jocular use.
° The form portentious (due to the influence of pretentious) is
Their use as full words (not prefixes) to mean 'after' and
'before' is unnecessary and disagreeable, e.g. in Post the
Geneva meeting of Opec (Daily Telegraph); Pre my being in office
When applied to things, practicable means 'able to be done',
e.g. (with the negative impracticable), Schemes which look very
fine on paper, but which, as we well know, are impracticable (C.
S. Lewis); practical 'concerned with practice, suitable for use,
suited to the conditions', e.g. Having considered the problem,
he came up with several practical suggestions; It is essential
that the plan should cover all the practical details.
pre: see post, pre.
like a precipice, e.g. Our rooms were...reached by a precipitous
marble staircase (Evelyn Waugh).
° Do not confuse with precipitate, hasty, rash, e.g. They were
all a little out of breath from precipitate arrival (Patrick
predicate (verb) (1) (Followed of) to assert as a property of, e.g. That
easy Bohemianism--conventionally predicated of the 'artistic'
temperament (J. I. M. Stewart). (2) (Followed by on) to found
or base (something) on, e.g. A new conception of
reality...predicated on dissatisfaction with formalist
° Sense (2) tends to sound pretentious. Use found, or base, on.
pre-empt (1) To obtain beforehand, secure for oneself in advance, e.g.
Sound allows the mind an inventive role systematically
pre-empted by the cinema (Frederic Raphael). (2) To preclude,
forestall, e.g. The Nazi regime by its own grotesque vileness
pre-empted fictional effort (Listener).
° Sense (2) is better expressed by a verb such as preclude or
° Pre-empt is not a synonym for prevent.
prefer. The rejected alternative introduced by to, e.g. Men preferred
darkness to light (NEB). But when the rejected alternative is
an infinitive, it is preceded by rather than (not than alone),
e.g. I'd prefer to be stung to death rather than to wake
up...with half of me shot away (John Osborne).
means 'more desirable than' and is therefore intensified by far,
greatly, or much, not more, e.g. After a hundred and eighty
(skips) an unclear head seemed much preferable to more skips
The alternatives are introduced by for and over, e.g. The
preference for a single word over a phrase or clause (Anthony
Burgess); but in preference is followed by to, e.g. Both were
sensitive to artistic impressions musical in preference to
plastic or pictorial (James Joyce).
prejudice (1) = bias, is followed by against or in favour of; (2) =
detriment, is followed by to; (3) = injury, is followed by of
(in the phrase to the prejudice of).
prepared: to be prepared to, to be willing to, has been criticized as
officialese by some authorities, but is now established usage,
e.g. One should kill oneself, which, of course, I was not
prepared to do (Cyril Connolly).
to lay down as a rule be followed; proscribe, to forbid by law.
presently (1) After a short time, e.g. Presently we left the table and sat
in the garden-room (Evelyn Waugh). (2) At present, currently,
e.g. The praise presently being heaped upon him (The
° Sense (2) (for long current in American English) is regarded
as incorrect by some people but is widely used and often sounds
more natural than at present.
(1) Characterized by juggling or magic, delusive, deceptive,
e.g. The prestigious balancing act which he was constantly
obliged to perform (TLS): now rare. (2) Having or showing
prestige, e.g. A career in pure science is still more socially
prestigious than one in engineering (The Times): a fully
to speak or act evasively or misleadingly, e.g. I never have
told a lie...On many occasions I have resorted to prevarication;
but on great occasions I have always told the truth (G. B.
Shaw); procrastinate, to postpone action, e.g.
Hamlet...pronounces himself a procrastinator, an undecided man,
even a coward (C. S. Lewis).
prevent is followed by the objective case and from + the gerund, or by
the possessive case + the gerund, e.g. prevent me from going or
prevent my going.
° Prevent me going is informal only.
° pre-war as an adverb, in, e.g., Some time pre-war there was a large
contract out for tender (Daily Telegraph): prefer before the
pristine (1) Ancient, original, e.Stone which faithfully reproduced its
pristine alternations of milk and cream (J. I. M. Stewart). (2)
Having its original, unspoilt condition, e.g. Pristine snow
reflects about 90 per cent of incident sunlight (Fred Hoyle).
° Pristine does not mean 'spotless', 'pure', or 'fresh'.
prone (followed by to) is used like, and means much the same as,
liable, except that it usually qualifies a personal subject,
e.g. My literary temperament rendering me especially prone to
'all that kind of poisonous nonsense' (Cyril Connolly).
means 'a comparative part, share, or ratio'; it is not a mere
synonym for part.
the leading character in a story or incident.
° In Greek drama there was only one protagonist, but this is no
reason to debar the use of the word in the plural, e.g.
We...sometimes mistook a mere supernumerary in a fine dress for
one of the protagonists (C. S. Lewis).
° Do not confuse with proponent: the word contains the Greek
prefix prot- 'first', not the prefix pro- 'in favour of', and
does not mean 'champion, advocate'.
protest (verb, transitive) to affirm solemnly, e.g. He barely attempted
to protest his innocence (George Orwell).
° The sense 'protest against', e.g. in The residents have
protested the sale, is Amer. only.
proven. It is not standard to use this as the ordinary past participle
of prove in British English (it is standard Scots and Amer.); it
is, however, common attributively in certain expressions, such
as of proven ability.
origin, place of origin, is used in Britain; the form
provenience is its usual Amer. equivalent.
prudent, showing carefulness and foresight, e.g. It seemed prudent to
inform him of my plans rather than let him hear about them
indirectly; prudential, involving or marked by prudence, e.g.
The humble little outfit of prudential maxims which really
underlay much of the talk about Shakespeare's characters (C. S.
pry, to prise (open, etc.): chiefly Amer., but occasionally in
British literary use, e.g. For her to pry his fingers open
(David Garnett). The normal sense is 'peer' or 'inquire'.
question (1) No question that (sometimes but), no doubt that, e.g. There
can be no question that the burning of Joan of Arc must have
been a most instructive and interesting experiment (G. B. Shaw);
There is no question but Leslie was an unusually handsome boy
(2) No question of, no possibility of, e.g. There can be no
question of tabulating successes and failures and trying to
decide whether the successes are too numerous to be accounted
for by chance (C. S. Lewis). See also beg the question,leading
quote (noun = quotation) is informal only (except in Printing and
° re (in the matter of, referring to) is better avoided and should
not be used for 'about, concerning'.
reason. The reason (why)..is..should be followed by that, not because,
e.g. The reason why such a suggestion sounds hopeless...is that
few people are able to imagine the radio being used for the
dissemination of anything except tripe (George Orwell).
recoup (1) (transitive) to recompense (oneself or a person) for (a loss
or expenditure), e.g. Dixon felt he could recoup himself a
little for the expensiveness of the drinks (Kingsley Amis); also
to recoup one's losses; (2) (intransitive) to make good one's
loss, e.g. I had...acquired so many debts that if I didn't
return to England to recoup, we might have to run for it (Chaim
° This word is not synonymous with recuperate except partly in
sense (2) above ('to make good one's loss').
(1) (intransitive) to recover from exhaustion, ill-health,
financial loss, etc., e.g. I've got a good mind...to put all my
winnings on red and give him a chance to recuperate (Graham
Greene); (2) (transitive) to recover (health, a loss, material).
In sense (2) recover is preferable.
redolent, smelling of something, e.g. Corley's breath redolent of rotten
cornjuice (James Joyce); also used figuratively to mean
'strongly suggestive or reminiscent of', e.g. The missive most
redolent of money and sex (Martin Amis).
° For the plural, referendums is preferable to referenda.
refute, to prove (a statement, opinion, accusation, etc.), to be false,
e.g. The case against most of them must have been so easily
refuted that they could hardly rank as suspects (Rebecca West);
to prove (a person) to be in error, e.g. One of those German
scholars whose function is to be refuted in a footnote (Frederic
° Refute does not mean 'deny' or 'repudiate' (an allegation
regalia is a plural noun, meaning 'emblems of royalty or of an order'.
It has no singular in ordinary English.
region: in the region of, unwieldy periphrasis for roundabout, is better
is the official term for the institution informally often called
the registry office.
in a regretful manner; regrettably, it is to be regretted
° Regretfully should not be used where regrettably is intended:
The investigators, who must regretfully remain anonymous (TLS),
reads as a guess at the investigators' feelings instead of an
expression of the writer's opinion, which was what was intended.
The influence of hopefully (2) may be discernible here.
renege (intransitive), to fail to fulfil an agreement or undertaking,
is usually constructed with on, e.g. It...reneged on Britain's
commitment to the East African Asians (The Times).
resource is often confused with recourse and resort. Resource means (1) a
reserve upon which one can draw (often used in the plural); (2)
an action or procedure to which one can turn in difficulty, an
expedient; (3) mental capabilities for amusing oneself, etc.
(often used in the plural, e.g. Left to his own resources); (4)
ability to deal with a crisis, e.g. A man of infinite resource.
Recourse means the action of turning to a possible source of
help; frequently in the phrases have recourse to, without
recourse to. Resort means (1) the action of turning to a
possible source of help ( = recourse; but resorting is more
usual than resort after without); frequently in the phrase in
the last resort, as a last expedient, in the end; (2) a thing to
which one can turn in difficulty.
(1) Liable to be called to account for, e.g. I'm not responsible
for what uncle Percy does (E. M. Forster).
(2) Obliged to take care of or carry out, e.g. Both they and the
singers, who were responsible for their respective duties (NEB).
(3) Being the cause of, e.g. A war-criminal responsible for so
many unidentified deaths (Graham Greene).
° Beware of using senses (1) or (2) in expressions in which
sense (3) can be understood, with absurd results, e.g. Now, as
Secretary for Trade, he is directly responsible for pollution
restive (1) Unmanageable, rejecting control, obstinate, e.g. The
I.L.P....had been increasingly restive during the second Labour
government, and now, refusing to accept Labour-party discipline
in the house of commons, voluntarily disaffiliated from the
Labour party (A. J. P. Taylor).
(2) Restless, fidgety, e.g. The audiences were not bad, though
apt to be restive and noisy at the back (J. B. Priestley).
° Sense (2) is objected to by some authorities but is quite
commonly used by good writers.
revenge: one revenges oneself or a wrong (on an offender); one is
revenged (for a wrong): the noun is revenge, and the idea is
usually of satisfaction of the offended party's resentment. Cf.
reverend, deserving reverence; reverent, showing reverence. (The) Revd,
plural Revds, is the abbreviation of Reverend as a clergy title
reversal is the noun corresponding to the verb reverse; reversion is the
noun corresponding to the verb revert.
same. ° It is non-standard to use the phrase same as as a kind of
conjunction meaning 'in the same way as, just as', e.g. But I
shouldn't be able to serve them personally, same as I do now (L.
° The phrase same like, used for just like or in the same way
as, is illiterate, e.g. I have rich friends, same like you (Iris
sanction (verb) to give approval to, to authorize, e.g. This council
sanctioned the proclamation of a state of war with Germany from
11 p.m. (A. J. P. Taylor).
° It does not mean 'impose sanctions on'.
sc. (short for Latin scilicet = scire licet one is permitted to
know) introduces (1) a word to be supplied, e.g. He asserted
that he had met him (sc. the defendant) on that evening, or (2)
a word to be substituted for one already used, in order to
render an expression intelligible, e.g. 'I wouldn't of (sc.
have) done' was her answer.
scabrous (1) (In Botany and Zoology) having a rough surface. (2)
Encrusted with dirt, grimy, e.g. The streaky green distempered
walls and the scabrous wooden W.C. seat (John Braine). (3)
Risqu‚, salacious, indecent, e.g. Silly and scabrous titters
about Greek pederasty (C. S. Lewis).
° Scabrous does not mean 'scathing, abusive, scurrilous'.
scarify, to loosen the surface of (soil, etc.); to make slight cuts in
(skin, tissue) surgically.
° The verb scarify (pronounced scare-ify) 'scare, terrify', e.g.
To be on the brink of a great happiness is a scarifying feeling
(Noel Coward), is informal only.
scenario (1) An outline of the plof a play. (2) A film script giving
details of scenes, stage-directions, etc. (3) An outline of an
imagined (usually future) sequence of events, e.g. Several of
the computer 'scenarios' include a catastrophic and sudden
collapse of population (Observer).
° Sense (3) is valid when a detailed narrative of events that
might happen under certain conditions is denoted. The word
should not be used as a loose synonym for scene, situation,
scilicet: see sc.
Scottish is now the usual adjective; Scotch is restricted to a fairly
large number of fixed expressions, e.g. Scotch broth, egg,
whisky; Scots is used mainly for the Scottish dialect of
English, in the names of regiments, and in Scotsman, Scotswoman
(Scotchman, -woman are old-fashioned ). To designate the
inhabitants of Scotland, the plural noun Scots is normal.
suitable for the time of year, occurring at the right time or
season, opportune; unseasonable occurring at the wrong time or
season, e.g. You are apt to be pressed to drink a glass of
vinegary port at an unseasonable hour (Somerset Maugham).
° Do not confuse with seasonal, occurring at or associated with
a particular season, e.g. There is a certain seasonal tendency
to think better of the Government...in spring (The Economist)
are followed by to. They contain the idea of 'more' (advanced in
years, exalted in position, etc.) and so cannot be constructed
with more...than, e.g. There are several officers senior, or
superior in rank, to him, not... more senior, or more superior
in rank, than him.
ability to feel, sensitiveness, delicacy of feeling, e.g. The
man's moving fingers...showed no sign of acute sensibility
° Sensibility is not the noun corresponding to sensible meaning
'having good sense'; i.e. it does not mean 'possession of good
sensual, gratifying to the body; indulging oneself with physical
pleasures, showing that one does this, e.g. His sensual eye took
in her slim feminine figure (Angus Wilson); sensuous, affecting
or appealing to the senses (without the pejorative implications
of sensual), e.g. I got up and ran about the...meadow in my bare
feet. I remember the sensuous pleasure of it (C. Day Lewis).
the making of pleasant discoveries by accident, or the knack or
fact of doing this; the adjective (usually applied to a
discovery, event, fact, etc.) is serendipitous.
° Serendipitous does not mean merely 'fortunate'.
sic (Latin for thus) is placed in brackets after a word that appears
odd or erroneous to show that the word is quoted exactly as it
stands in the original, e.g. Daisy Ashford's novel The Young
sick see ill.
° sit, stand.
The use of the past participle sat, stood with the verb to be,
meaning to be sitting, standing, is non-standard, e.g. No
really, I'd be sat there falling asleep if I did come (Kingsley
situation A useful noun for expressing the sense 'position of affairs,
combination of circumstances' which may validly be preceded by a
defining adjective, e.g. the financial, industrial, military,
° The substitution of an attributive noun for an adjective
before situation should be carefully considered. It should not
be used when the resulting phrase will be tautologous (e.g. a
crisis situation, people in work situations: crises and work are
themselves situations). The placing of an attributive phrase
before situation is nearly always ugly and should be avoided,
e.g. The deep space situation, a balance-of-terror situation, a
standing credit situation.
° The combination of ongoing with situation is a clich‚ to be
sled is Amer. for sledge; sleigh is a sledge for passengers that is
drawn by horses (or reindeer).
so used adverbially as a means of linking two clauses and meaning
'therefore' may be preceded by and but need not be; e.g. Leopold
Bloom is a modern Ulysses, so he has to encounter Sirens and a
Cyclops (Anthony Burgess); I had received no word from Martha
all day, so I was drawn back to the casino (Graham Greene).
so-called (1) has long been used in the sense 'called by this term, but
not entitled to it'; (2) is now often used quite neutrally,
without implication of incorrectness, especially in Science.
sort of see kind of.
except for its use in Law, is an equivalent of speciality
restricted to North America.
spectate, to be a spectator, is at best informal.
° Watch is usually an adequate substitute, e.g. in A spectating,
as opposed to a reading, audience (Listener).
strata is the plural of stratum.
° It is incorrect to treat it as a singular noun, e.g. in The
movement has...sunk to a wider and more anonymous strata.
style. (1) Adjective + -style used to qualify a noun, e.g. European-
style clothing, contemporary-style dancing, is acceptable.
(2) Adjective or noun + -style, forming an adverb, is somewhat
informal, e.g. A revolution, British-style (A. J. P. Taylor).
actually existing; real value; of solid material; having much
property; in essentials; e.g. substantial damages, progress; a
substantial house, yeoman; substantial agreement.
° It is not merely a synonym of large.
(adjective) is used mainly in technical senses; e.g.
substantive rank, in the services, is permanent, not acting or
(verb) to put (someone or something) in place of another:
constructed with for; e.g. Democracy substitutes election by the
incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few (G. B.
° The sense 'replace (someone or something) by or with another'
is incorrect, or at best highly informal, e.g. in Having
substituted her hat with a steel safety helmet, she went on a
tour of the site (better, Having replaced her hat...with or
Having substituted a steel safety helmet for...)
such as see like.
superior see senior
hypothetical, conjectural; supposititious, fraudulently
substituted (especially of a child displacing a real heir), e.g.
Russia is the supposititious child of necessity in the household
of theory (H. G. Wells).
(transitive), to make to occur at the same time, e.g. Everyday
cordialities would be synchronized with gazes of rapt ardour
° It is not a synonym for combine or co-ordinate.
the (article). When a name like The Times or The Hague is used
attributively, The is dropped, e.g. A Times correspondent, Last
year's Hague conference. If the precedes the name in such a
construction, it belongs to the succeeding noun, not to the
name, and is therefore not given a capital initial (or italics),
e.g. A report from the Times correspondent.
the (adverb) prefixed to a comparative means 'thereby' or 'by so
much', e.g. What student is the better for mastering these
futile distinctions? This combination can enter into the further
construction seen in The more the merrier (i.e. 'by how much
more, by that much merrier'). It cannot enter into a
construction with than: the tendency to insert it before more
and less (putting any the more, none the less for anymore, no
less) should be resisted, e.g. in The intellectual release had
been no less (not none the less) marked than the physical.
then may be used as an adjective preceding a noun as a neat
alternative to at that time or similar phrase, e.g. Hearing that
they were on personal terms with the then Prime Minister
° It should not be placed before the noun if it would sound
equally well in its usual position, e.g. Harold Macmillan was
the then Prime Minister could equally well be was then the Prime
Minister. The same applies to an adverbial use of then before
attributive adjectives, e.g. The then existing constitution:
write The constitution then existing.
there- adverbs, e.g. therein, thereon, thereof, etc., belong mainly to
very formal diction and should be avoided in ordinary writing
(apart from certain idiomatic adverbs, e.g. thereabouts,
thereby, thereupon); e.g. We did not question this reasoning,
and there lay our mistake (Evelyn Waugh): a lesser writer might
have written therein. But such adverbs can be employed for
special effectiveness, e.g. This idea brought him rocketing back
to earth. But he stood thereupon like a giant (Iris Murdoch).
through, up to and including, e.g. Friday through Tuesday, though useful,
is Amer. only.
too followed by an adjective used attributively should be confined
to poetry or special effects in prose, e.g. Metropolis, that
too-great city (W. H. Auden); A small too-pretty house (Graham
° In normal prose it is a clumsy construction, e.g. The crash
came during a too-tight loop.
and fine tooth-comb, arising from a misapprehension of
fine-tooth comb, are now established expressions whose
illogicality it is pedantic to object to.
Do not confuse: tortuous means (1) twisting, e.g. Through
tortuous lanes where the overhanging boughs whipped the
windscreen (Evelyn Waugh); (2) devious, e.g. Control had his
reasons; they were usually so bloody tortuous it took you a week
to work them out (John le Carr‚). Torturous means 'involving
torture, excruciating', e.g. Torturously original inlay-work
surpassing (e.g. Of transcendent importance), (of God) above and
distinct from the universe, e.g. Such transcendent power does
not come from us, but is God's alone (NEB); transcendental,
visionary, idealistic, beyond experience, etc., e.g. Most of
those who have been near death have also described some kind of
mystical or transcendental experience (British Medical Journal).
(Other more technical senses of each word are ignored here.)
transpire (figuratively): (1) To leak out, come to be known, e.g. What
had transpired concerning that father was not so reassuring
(John Galsworthy). (2) To come about, take place, e.g. What
transpired between them is unknown (David Cecil).
° Sense (2), probably arising from the misunderstanding of
sentences like 'What had transpired during his absence he did
not know', is chiefly informal. It is regarded by many people as
unacceptable, especially if the idea of something emerging from
ignorance is absent: it should therefore not be used in
sentences like A storm transpired.
trillion see billion.
of or celebrating a triumph, e.g. A triumphal arch; triumphant,
try (verb) in writing normally followed by the to- infinitive: try
and + bare infinitive is informal.
turbid (1) thick, dense; (2) confused, disordered, e.g. In an access of
despair had sought death in the turbid Seine (W. Somerset
Turgid (1) swollen; (2) (of language) inflated, grandiloquent,
e.g. Some of them are turgid, swollen with that kind of
intellectual bombast which never rises to gusto (G. H. Vallins).
underlay (verb) (past underlaid) to lay something under (a thing), e.g.
Underlaid the tiles with felt: a somewhat rare verb; underlie
(past tense underlay, past participle underlain) to lie under;
to be the basis of; to exist beneath the surface of, e.g. The
arrogance that underlay their cool good manners (Doris Lessing).
not ambiguous, unmistakable; similarly unequivocally adverb,
e.g. Made her intentions unequivocally clear.
° The forms unequivocable, -ably, sometimes seen, are erroneous.
unique (1) Being the only one of its kind, e.g. The fighting quality
that gives war its unique power over the imagination (G. B.
Shaw): in this sense unique cannot be qualified by adverbs like
absolutely, most, quite, so, thoroughly, etc. (2) Unusual,
remarkable, singular, e.g. A passionate human insight so unique
in her experience that she felt it to be unique in human
experience (Muriel Spark).
° Sense (2) is regarded by many people as incorrect. Substitute
one of the synonyms given above, or whatever other adjective is
unlike (adverb) may govern a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun, just as
like may, e.g. A sarcasm unlike ordinary sarcasm (V. S.
Pritchett). It may not govern a clause with or without ellipsis
of the verb, e.g. He was unlike he had ever been; Unlike in
countries of lesser economic importance.
° various cannot be used as a pronoun followed by of (as, for example,
several can), as (wrongly) in The two ministers...concerned have
been paying private visits to various of the Commonwealth
venal, able to be bribed, influenced by bribery; venial, pardonable.
vengeance see avenge.
verbal (1) of or in words; (2) of a verb; (3) spoken rather than
° Some people reject sense (3) as illogical and prefer oral.
However, verbal is the usual term in a number of idioms, such as
verbal communication, contract, evidence.
verge (verb) in verge on, upon, to border on, e.g. He told two or
three stories verging on the improper (John Galsworthy), is in
origin a different word from verge in verge to, towards to
incline towards, approach, e.g. The London docks, where
industrial disputes always verged towards violence (A. J. P.
Taylor). Both are acceptable.
vermin is usually treated as plural, e.g. A lot of parasites, vermin
who feed on God's love and charity (Joyce Cary).
via (1) By way of (a place), e.g. To London via Reading. (2) By
means of, through the agency of, e.g. Other things can...be
taught...via the air, via television, via teaching machines, and
so on (E. F. Schumacher); I sent it via my secretary.
° Sense (2) is sometimes criticized, but is certainly acceptable
in informal use.
waive to refrain from using or insisting on, to forgo or dispense
with, e.g. The satisfaction...of waiving the rights which my
preaching gives me (NEB).
° Do not confuse this with wave, chiefly in conjunction with
aside, away, as (wrongly) in But the Earl simply waived the
subject away with his hand (Trollope).
(verbs) in the sense 'require' can be followed (1) by a gerund
as object, e.g. Your hair needs or wants cutting or (2) by an
object and a past participle as complement to the object (with
the verb 'to be' omitted), e.g. We want or need this changed.
° The idiom We want or need this changing (perhaps a mixture of
the two constructions, but having the sense of (2)) is informal
well is joined by a hyphen to following participle when the
combination is used attributively, e.g. A well-worn argument.
Predicatively a hyphen is not necessary unless the combination
is to be distinguished in meaning from the two words written
separately, e.g. He is well-spoken but The words were well
what ever, when ever, where ever:
whence meaning 'from where'. does not need to be preceded by from.
who ever see ever.
whoever, any one who, no matter who: use whoever for the objective case
as well as the subjective, rather than whomever, which is rather
-wise (suffix) added to nouns (1) forming adverbs of manner, is very
well established, but is now, except in fixed expressions like
clockwise, rather literary or poetic, e.g. The Saint wears tight
yellow trousers...and is silkily shaven Romanwise (TLS); (2)
forming viewpoint adverbs (meaning 'as regards--'), e.g. I can
eat only Cox's Orange Pippins, and am in mourning applewise from
April to October (Iris Murdoch).
° (2) is widely regarded as unacceptable in formal usage.
° Adverbs of type (2) are formed on nouns only, not on
adjectives: hence sentences like The ratepayers would have to
shoulder an extra burden financial-wise are incorrect
(substitute...burden finance-wise or financial burden).
° without = 'unless' is illiterate, e.g. Without you have a bit of class
already, your town gets no new theatre (Listener).
See also hardly.
womankind is better than womenkind (cf.mankind).
is usually written as two words predicatively, but as one
attributively, e.g. He thought it worth while, or a worthwhile
undertaking, to publish the method.
write (to compose a letter) with indirect personal object, e.g. I will
write you about it, is not acceptable British English (but is
good Amer. English).
Language is an instrument for communication. The language which
can with the greatest ease make the finest and most numerous
distinctions of meaning is the best.
(C. S. Lewis, Studies in Words)
THIS section deals with specific problems of grammar; it makes no attempt
at a systematic exposition of English syntax.
It is notoriously difficult to find convenient labels for many of the
topics on which guidance is needed. Wherever possible. the headings chosen
for the entries are, or include, the words which actually cause
grammatical problems (e.g. as, may or might). Some headings include the
grammatical endings involved (e.g. -ing). But inevitably many entries
have had to be given abstract labels (e.g. double passive, subjunctive).
To compensate for this, a number of cross-references are included, by
which the user can find a way to the required entry. The aim throughout
is to tackle a particular problem immediately and to give a recommendation
as soon as the problem has been identified. Explanations entailing wider
grammatical principles are postponed or even omitted.
A relative clause, expressing time, manner, or place, can follow a noun
governed by a preposition (on the day in the example below):
On the day that you eat from it, you will certainly die (NEB)
It is possible for the relative clause to begin with the same preposition
and which, e.g.
On the day on which this occurred, I was away
But it is a perfectly acceptable idiom to use a relative clause introduced
by that without repetition of the preposition, especially after the nouns
day, morning, night, time, year, etc., manner, sense, way (see way,
relative clause following), place, e.g.
Envy in the consuming sense that certain persons display
the trait (Anthony Powell)
It is, if anything, even more usual for that to be omitted:
He cannot have been more than thirty at the time we met him
If he would take it in the sense she meant it (L. P. Hartley)
On the day you pass over the Jordan (NEB)
4.2 adverbs without -ly
Most adverbs consist of an adjective + the ending -ly, e.g. badly,
differently. For the changes in spelling that the addition of -ly may
require, see -ly.
Normally the use of the ordinary adjective as an adverb, without -ly, is
I was sent for special
The Americans speak different from us
They just put down their tools sudden and cut and run
There are, however, a number of words which are both adjective and adverb
and cannot add the adverbial ending -ly:
early fast much
enough little straight
Some other adjectives can be used as adverbs both with and without -ly.
The two forms have different meanings:
deep high near
The forms without -ly are the adverbs more closely similar in meaning to
the adjectives, as the following examples illustrate:
deep: Still waters run deep
He read deep into the night
hard: They hit me hard in the chest
He lost his hard-earned money
We will be hard put to it to be ready by Christmas
high: It soared high above us
Don't fix your hopes too high
late: I will stay up late to finish it
A drawing dated as late as 1960
near: He won't come near me
As near as makes no difference
The forms with -ly have meanings more remote from those of the adjectives:
deeply is chiefly figurative, e.g. Deeply in love
hardly = 'scarcely', e.g. He hardly earned his money
highly is chiefly figurative, e.g. Don't value possessions too highly
lately = 'recently', e.g. I have been very tired lately
nearly = 'almost', e.g. The conditions were nearly those of a famine
° The forms with and without -ly are not interchangeable and should not be
See also -lily adverbs
4.3 article, omission of
To omit, or not to omit, a (an) and the?
Omission of the definite or indefinite article before a noun or noun
phrase in apposition to a name is a journalistic device, e.g.
Clarissa, American business woman, comes to England
Nansen, hero and humanitarian, moves among them
It is more natural to write an American business woman, the hero and
Similarly, when the name is in apposition to the noun or noun phrase, and
the article is omitted, the effect is of journalistic style, e.g.
NUM President Arthur Scargill
Best-selling novelist Barbara Cartland
Unemployed labourer William Smith
Preferably write: The NUM President, The best-selling novelist, An
unemployed labourer (with a comma before and after the name which
After as it is possible to omit a or the, e.g.
As manipulator of words, the author reminded me of X.Y.
The Soviet system could no longer be regarded as sole model for
It is preferable not to omit these words, however, except where the noun
or noun phrase following is treated as a kind of generic mass noun, e.g.
The vivid relation between himself, as man, and the sunflower, as
sunflower (D. H. Lawrence)
4.4 as, case following
In the following sentences, formal usage requires the subjective case (I,
he, she, we, they) because the pronoun would be the subject if a verb were
You are just as intelligent as he (in full, as he is)
Widmerpool...might not have heard the motif so often as I (Anthony
Powell) (in full, as I had
Informal usage permits You are just as intelligent as him.
Formal English uses the objective case (me, him, her, us, them) only when
the pronoun would be the object if a verb were supplied:
I thought you preferred John to Mary, but I see that you like
her just as much as him (which means...just as much as you like him)
In real usage, sentences like this are rare and not very natural. It is
more usual for the verb to be included in the sentence or for the thought
to be expressed in a different construction.
4.5 as if, as though
For the tense following these see as if, as though.
There are sixteen auxiliary verbs in English, three primary auxiliaries
(used in the compounding of ordinary verbs) and thirteen modal auxiliaries
(used to express mood, and, to some extent, tense).
Primary: be, do, have
Modal: can ought (to)
may used (to)
Auxiliaries differ from regular verbs in the following ways:
1. They can precede the negative not, instead of taking the do not
construction, e.g. I cannot but I do not know;
2. They can precede the subject in questions, instead of taking the do
construction, e.g. Can you hear but Do you know.
The modal auxiliaries additionally differ from regular verbs in the
3. They are invariable: they do not add -s for the third person present,
and do not form a separate past tense in -ed; e.g. He must go; he must
have seen it.
4. They are usually followed by the bare infinitive; e.g. He will go, he
can go (not 'to go' as with other verbs, e.g. He intends to go, he is
able to go).
Use of auxiliaries
In reported speech and some other that-clauses can, may, shall, and will
become could, might, should, and would for the past tense:
He said that he could do it straight away
I told you that I might arrive unexpectedly
I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer (George Orwell)
Did you think that the money you brought would be enough?
In clauses of this kind, the auxiliaries must, need, and ought, which
normally refer to the present tense, can also be used for the past tense:
I had meant to return direct to Paris, but this business...meant that
I must go to London (Evelyn Waugh)
To go to church had made her feel she need not reproach herself for
impropriety ( V. S. Pritchett)
She was quite aware that she ought not to quarter Freddy there
(G. B. Shaw)
Note that this use is restricted to that-clauses. It would not be
permissible to use must, need, or ought for the past tense in a main
sentence; for example, one could not say: Yesterday I must go.
Further discussion of the use of auxiliary verbs will be found under
"can and may" in topic 4.8,
"dare" in topic 4.15,
"have" in topic 4.21,
"need" in topic 4.33,
"ought" in topic 4.37,
"shall and will" in topic 4.43,
"should and would" in topic 4.44,
"used to" in topic 4.56,
"were or was" in topic 4.58.
4.7 but, case following
The personal pronoun following but (= 'except') should be in the case it
would have if a verb were supplied.
I walked through the mud of the main street. Who but I? (Kipling)
Our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us
(C. S. Lewis)
In the Kipling example I is used because it would be the subject of I
walked. In the Lewis example us is used because it would be the object of
who have (i.e. 'who have us as their only defence').
4.8 can and may
The auxiliary verbs can and may are both used to express permission, but
may is more formal and polite:
I'm going to come and see you some time--may I?
Collective nouns are singular words that denote many individuals, e.g.
board (of directors)
party (body of persons)
union (i.e. trade union)
the aristocracy the laity
the bourgeoisie the nobility
the Cabinet the proletariat
the clergy the public
the elit‚ the upper class
the gentry the working class
It is normal for collective nouns, being singular, to be followed by
singular verbs and pronouns (is, has, consists, and it in the examples
The Government is determined to beat inflation, as it has promised
Their family is huge: it consists of five boys and three girls
The bourgeoisie is despised for not being proletarian (C. S. Lewis)
The singular verb and pronouns are preferable unless the collective is
clearly and unmistakably used to refer to separate individuals rather than
to a united body, e.g.
The Cabinet has made its decision, but
The Cabinet are resuming their places around the table at Number
10 Downing Street
The Brigade of Guards is on parade, but
The Brigade of Guards are above average height
The singular should always be used if the collective noun is qualified by
a singular word like this, that, every, etc.:
This family is divided
Every team has its chance to win
If a relative clause follows, it must be which + singular verb or who +
plural verb, e.g.
It was not the intelligentsia, but just intellectual society, which was
gathered there (John Galsworthy)
The working party who had been preparing the decorations
° Do not mix singular and plural, as (wrongly) in
The congregation were now dispersing.
It tended to form knots and groups
4.10 comparison of adjectives and adverbs
Whether to use -er, -est or more, most.
The two ways of forming the comparative and superlative of adjectives and
a. The addition of the comparative and superlative suffixes -er and
-est (for spelling changes that may be required see p. 18).
Monosyllabic adjectives and adverbs almost always require these
big (bigger, biggest),
soon (sooner, soonest),
and so normally do many adjectives of two syllables, e.g.
b. The placing of the comparative and superlative adverbs more and
most before the adjective or adverb. These are used with
adjectives of three syllables or more (e.g. difficult, memorable),
participles (e.g. bored, boring), many adjectives of two syllables
(e.g. afraid, awful, childish, harmless, static), and adverbs
ending in -ly (e.g. highly, slowly).
Adjectives with two syllables vary between the use of the suffixes and of
There are many which never take the suffixes, e.g.
The linking of two main clauses by a comma alone, without any connecting
conjunction, is sometimes said to be incorrect. It is on occasion used by
good writers, however, as the examples show. It should be regarded as
acceptable if used sparingly.
The peasants possess no harrows, they merely plough the soil
several times over (George Orwell)
Charles carried a mackintosh over his arm, he was stooping a
little (C. P. Snow)
I began to wonder when the Presidential Candidate would appear,
he must have had a heavy handicap (Graham Greene)
either...or not only...but (also)
A sentence containing any of these pairs must be so constructed that the
part of the sentence introduced by the first member of the pair (both,
either, neither, or not only) is parallel in structure to the part
introduced by the second member (and, or, neither, or but (also)).
The rule is that if one covers up the two correlative words and all the
words between them, the remaining sentence should still be grammatical.
The following sentence from a typical newspaper advertisement illustrates
Candidates will have a background in either commercial electronics
or university research
Because in precedes either, it need not be repeated after or. If it had
followed either, it would have had to be inserted after or as well. But
the sentence as given is the most economical structure possible.
In the following example the preposition of comes after either and must
therefore be repeated after or:
He did not wish to pay the price either of peace
or of war (George Orwell)
This conforms with the rule stated above, while perhaps sounding better
than of either peace or war (which would be as good grammatically).
It is, however, not uncommon for the conjunctions to be placed so that the
two halves are not quite parallel, even in the writings of careful
I end neither with a death nor a marriage
(W. Somerset Maugham)
People who either hadn't been asked to pay or
who were simply not troubling themselves (V. S. Pritchett)
In the first example, with belongs to both halves and needs to be repeated
after nor. In the second, who precedes either and strictly need not be
repeated after or.
These sentences exhibit fairly trivial slips that rarely cause difficulty
(except in the case of not only: see only in topic 3.0.
° A more serious error is the placing of the first correlative conjunction
too late, so that words belonging only to the first half are carried over
to the second, resulting in a grammatical muddle, e.g.
The other Exocet was either destroyed or blew up (BBC News)
The construction whereby a passive infinitive directly follows a passive
verb is correctly used in the following:
The prisoners were ordered to be shot
This music is intended to be played on a piano
The rule is that if the subject and the first passive verb can be changed
into the active, leaving the passive infinitive intact, the sentence is
correctly formed. The examples above (if a subject, say he, is supplied)
can be changed back to:
He ordered the prisoners to be shot
He intends this music to be played on a piano
In other words, the passive infinitive is not part of the passive
construction. An active infinitive could equally well be part of the
The prisoners were ordered to march
The examples below violate the rule because both the passive verb and the
passive infinitive have to be made active in order to form a grammatical
The order was attempted to be carried out
(active: He attempted to carry out the order)
A new definition was sought to be inserted in the Bill
(active: He sought to insert a new definition in the Bill)
This 'double passive' construction is unacceptable.
The passive of the verbs to fear and to say can be followed by either an
active or a passive infinitive, e.g.
(i) The passengers are feared to have drowned
The escaped prisoner is said to be very dangerous
(ii) The passengers are feared to have been killed
The escaped prisoner is said to have been sighted
The construction at (ii) is not the double passive and is entirely
acceptable. Both constructions are sometimes found with other verbs of
saying (e.g. to allege, to assert, to imply):
Morris demonstrated that Mr Elton was obviously implied to be
impotent (David Lodge)
see "subjects joined by (either...) or" in topic 4.48.
4.18 either (pronoun)
Either is a singular pronoun and should be followed by a singular verb:
Enormous evils, either of which depends on somebody
else's voice (Louis MacNeice)
In the following example the plural verb accords with the notional meaning
'both parents were not'.
It was improbable that either of our parents were giving
thought to the matter (J. I. M. Stewart)
This is quite common in informal usage, but should not be carried over
into formal prose.
4.19 gender of indefinite expressions
It is often uncertain what personal pronoun should be used to refer back
to the indefinite pronouns and adjectives in the following list:
anyone no (+ noun)
every (+ noun) none
no one somebody
some (+ noun) someone
and also to refer back to (a) person, used indefinitely, or a male and
female noun linked by (either...) or or neither... nor, e.g.
Has anybody eaten his/their lunch yet?
A person who is upset may vent his/their feelings on his/their family
Neither John nor Mary has a home of their/his or her own
If it is known that the individuals referred to are all of the same sex,
there is no difficulty; use he or she as appropriate:
Everyone in the women's movement has had her own experience
of sexual discrimination
If, however, the sex of those referred to is unknown or deliberately left
indefinite, or if the reference is to a mixed group, the difficulty arises
that English has no singular pronoun to denote common gender.
The grammarians' recommendation, during the past two centuries, has been
that he (him, himself, his) should be used. Many good writers follow this:
Everyone talked at the top of his voice (W. Somerset Maugham)
Everyone took his place in a half-circle about the fire
(The context of each shows that the company was mixed.)
The long street in which nobody knows his neighbour
(G. B. Shaw)
Each person should give as he has decided for himself (NEB)
Popular usage, however, has for at least five centuries favoured the
plural pronoun they (them, themselves, their).
This is entirely acceptable in informal speech:
Nobody would ever marry if they thought it over
(G. B. Shaw)
It's the sort of thing any of us would dislike, wouldn't they?
(C. P. Snow)
It is by no means uncommon in more formal contexts:
Nobody stopped to stare, everyone had themselves to think about
His own family were occupied, each with their particular guests
Delavacquerie allowed everyone to examine the proofs as long as they
wished (Anthony Powell)
(The context of the second and third example shows that the company was
Many people regard it as inequitable that the masculine pronoun he should
be used to include both sexes, and therefore prefer to use they.
One can avoid the difficulty from time to time by writing he or she, as
many writers do on awkward occasions:
Nobody has room in his or her life for more than one such
relationship at a time (G. B. Shaw)
But this grows unwieldy with repetition:
If l ever wished to disconcert anyone, all I had to do was to ask
him (or her) how many friends he/she had (Frederic Raphael)
There are some contexts in which neither he nor they will seem
objectionable. In others, where he and they both seem inappropriate for
the reasons given, it may be necessary simply to recast the sentence.
4.20 group possessive
The group possessive is the construction by which the ending -'s of the
possessive case can be added to the last word of a noun phrase, which is
regarded as a single unit, e.g.
The king of Spain's daughter
John and Mary's baby
Somebody else's umbrella
A quarter of an hour's drive
Expressions like these are natural and acceptable.
Informal language, however, permits the extension of the construction to
long and complicated phrases:
The people in the house opposite's geraniums
The woman I told you about on the phone yesterday's name is Thompson
The man who called last week's umbrella is still in the hall
In these, the connection between the words forming the group possessive is
much looser and more complicated than in the earlier examples. The effect
is often somewhat ludicrous.
° Expressions of this sort should not be used in serious prose.
The geraniums of the people in the house opposite
The name of the woman I told you about on the phone yesterday is Thompson
The umbrella of the man who called last week is still in the hall
1. The verb to have, in some of its uses, can form its interrogative and
negative either with or without the verb to do, e.g. Do you have/have
you?, You don't have/you haven't.
In sentences like those below, have is a verb of event, meaning
'experience'. The interrogative (in the first example) and the
negative (in the second example) are always formed in the regular way,
using the verb do:
Do you ever have nightmares?
We did not have an easy time getting here
In the next pair of sentences, have is a verb of state, meaning
'possess'. When used in this sense, the interrogative (in the first
example) and negative (in the second example) can be formed in the
manner of an auxiliary verb, without the verb do:
What have you in common with the child of five whose
photograph your mother keeps? (George Orwell)
The truth was that he hadn't the answer
In more informal language, the verb got is added, e.g. What have you
got, He hadn't got the answer. This is not usually suitable for formal
It was formerly usual to distinguish the sense 'experience' from the
sense 'possess' by using the do-formation for the first and the
auxiliary formation for the second (but only in the present tense).
Hence I don't have indigestion (as a rule) was kept distinct from I
haven't (got) indigestion (at the moment). The use of the
do-construction when the meaning was 'possess' was an Americanism, but
it is now generally acceptable.
° However, the use of do as a substitute verb for have, common
informally, is not acceptable in formal prose:
I had stronger feelings than she did (substitute than she had)
Some have money, some don't (substitute some haven't)
2. Have is often wrongly inserted after I'd in sentences like:
If I'd have known she'd be here I don't suppose I'd have come
(Character in play by John Osborne)
This is common, and hardly noticed, in speech, but should not occur in
formal writing. The correct construction is:
If I'd known she'd be here...
Without the contraction, the clause would read: If I had known, with
the past perfect, which is the correct form in this kind of if-clause.
The only expression that the mistaken If I'd have known could stand
for is If I would have known, which is impossible in this context.
4.22 he who, she who
He who and she who are correctly used when he and she are the subject of
the main clause, and who is the subject of the relative clause:
He who hesitates is lost
She who was a star in the old play may find herself a super in the
new (C. S. Lewis)
In these examples he and she are the subjects of is lost and may find
respectively; who is the subject of hesitates and was.
He who and she who should not be treated as invariable. They should change
to him who and her who if the personal pronouns are not the subject of the
The distinction between the man who gives with conviction and him (not he)
who is simply buying a title
Similarly who must become whom if it is not the subject of the relative
I sought him whom my soul loveth (Authorized Version)
See also who and whom (interrogative and relative pronouns).
4.23 -ics, nouns in
Nouns ending in -ics denoting subjects or disciplines are sometimes
treated as singular and sometimes as plural. Examples are:
E.g. The mental gymnastics required to believe this are beyond me
These words usually retain a plural verb even with a singular complement:
The acrobatics are just the social side (Tom Stoppard)
4.24 infinitive, present or perfect
The perfect infinitive is correctly used when it refers to a state or
action earlier in time than that referred to by the verb on which it
If it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be
best to have acted (C. S. Lewis)
Someone seems to have been making a beast of himself here
In the above examples, the infinitives to have acted and to have been
making relate to actions earlier in time than the verbs would be best and
Only if the first verb relates to the past and the infinitive relates to a
state or action prior to that should a perfect infinitive follow a past or
perfect verb, forming a sort of 'double past', e.g.
When discussing sales with him yesterday, I should have liked
to have seen the figures beforehand
In this example I should have liked denotes the speaker's feelings during
the discussion and to have seen denotes an action imagined as occurring
before the discussion.
If the state or action denoted by the infinitive is thought of as
occurring at the same time as the verb on which it depends, then the
present infinitive should be used:
She would have liked to see what was on the television
The 'double past' is often accidentally used in this kind of sentence
I should have liked to have gone to the party
A literary example is:
Mr. McGregor threw down the sack on the stone floor in a way that
would have been extremely painful to the Flopsy Bunnies, if they had
happened to have been inside it (Beatrix Potter)
This should be avoided.
4.25 -ing (gerund and participle)
1. The -ing form of a verb can in some contexts be used in either of two
a. as a gerund (verbal noun) with a noun or pronoun in the possessive
standing before it, e.g.
In the event of Randall's not going (Iris Murdoch)
She did not like his being High Church (L. P. Hartley)
b. as a participle with a noun in its ordinary form or a pronoun in
the objective case standing before it, e.g.
What further need would there have been to speak of another
priest arising? (NEB)
Dixon did not like him doing that (Kingsley Amis)
The option of using either arises only when the word before the -ing
form is a proper or personal noun (e.g. John, father, teacher) or a
It is sometimes said that the construction with the possessive (as in
(a) above) is obligatory. This rule, in its strict form, should be
disregarded. Instead one should, in formal usage, try to employ the
possessive construction wherever it is possible and natural:
To whom, without its being ordered, the waiter immediately
brought a plate of eggs and bacon (Evelyn Waugh)
The danger of Joyce's turning them into epigrams
But it is certainly not wrong to use the non-possessive construction
if it sounds more natural, as in the New English Bible quotation
Moreover, there is sometimes a nuance of meaning. She did not like his
being High Church suggests that she did not like the fact that he was
High Church, and need not imply personal antipathy, whereas Dixon did
not like him doing that suggests an element of repugnance to the
person as well as to his action.
When using most non-personal nouns (e.g. luggage, meaning,
permission), groups of nouns (e.g. father and mother, surface area),
non-personal pronouns (e.g. anything, something), and groups of
pronouns (e.g. some of them), there is no choice of construction: the
possessive would not sound idiomatic at all.
Travellers in Italy could depend on their luggage not
being stolen (G. B. Shaw)
Altogether removing possibility of its meaning being
driven home (Anthony Powell)
His lines were cited...without his permission having
been asked (The Times)
Due to her father and mother being married
Owing to its surface area being so large relative to
its weight (George Orwell)
The air of something unusual having happened
(Arthur Conan Doyle)
He had no objection to some of them listening
When the word preceding the -ing form is a regular plural noun ending
in -s, there is no spoken distinction between the possessive and the
non-possessive form. It is unnecessary to write an apostrophe:
If she knew about her daughters attending the party
2. There is also variation between the gerundial and the participial uses
of the -ing form after nouns like difficulty, point, trouble, and use.
Formal English requires the gerundial use, the gerund being introduced
by in (or of after use):
There was...no difficulty in finding parking space
There doesn't seem much point in trying to explain everything
Informal usage permits the placing of the -ing form immediately after
the noun, forming a participial construction, e.g.
He had some trouble convincing Theo Craven
(Lynne Reid Banks)
The chairman had difficulty concealing his irritation
° This is not acceptable in formal usage.
4.26 I or me, we or us, etc.
There is often confusion about which case of a personal pronoun to use
when the pronoun stands alone or follows the verb to be.
1. When the personal pronoun stands alone, as when it forms the answer to
a question, formal usage requires it to have the case it would have if
the verb were supplied:
Who killed Cock Robin?--I (in full, I killed him)
Which of you did he approach?--Me (in full,
he approached me)
Informal usage permits the objective case in both kinds of sentence,
but this is not acceptable in formal style. It so happens that the
subjective case often sounds stilted. It is then best to avoid the
problem by providing the substitute verb do, or, if the preceding
sentence contains an auxiliary, by repeating the auxiliary, e.g.
Who likes cooking?--I do
Who can cook?--I can
2. When a personal pronoun follows it is, it was, it may be, it could
have been, etc., it should always have the subjective case:
Nobody could suspect that it was she
We are given no clue as to what it must have felt like to be
he (C. S. Lewis)
Informal usage favours the objective case:
I thought it might have been him at the door
Don't tell me it's them again!
° This is not acceptable in formal usage.
When who or whom follows, the subjective case is obligatory in formal
usage and quite usual informally:
It was I who painted the back door purple
It's they whom I shall be staying with in London
The informal use of the objective case often sounds substandard:
It was her who would get the blood off (Character in work by Patrick White)
(For agreement between the personal pronoun antecedent and the verb in It
is I who etc., see I who, you who, etc. )
In constructions which have the form I am + noun or noun phrase + who, the
verb following who agrees with the noun (the antecedent of who) and is
therefore always in the third person (singular or plural):
I am the sort of person who likes peace and quiet
You are the fourth of my colleagues who's told me that
(Character in work by Angus Wilson)
('s = has, agreeing with the fourth)
The following is not standard, but must be explained by the uniqueness of
the person denoted by the subject:
How then canst thou be a god that hidest thyself? (NEB)
4.27 I should or I would
There is often uncertainty whether to use should or would in the first
person singular and plural before verbs such as like or think and before
the adverbs rather and sooner.
1. Should is correct before verbs of liking, e.g. be glad, be inclined,
care, like, and prefer:
Would you like a beer?--I should prefer a cup of coffee,
if you don't mind
The very occasions on which we should most like to write
a slashing review (C. S. Lewis)
2. Should is correct in tentative statements of opinion, with verbs such
as guess, imagine, say, and think:
I should imagine that you are right
I should say so
I shouldn't have thought it was difficult
3. Would is correct before the adverbs rather and sooner, e.g.
I would truly rather be in the middle of this than sitting
in that church in a tight collar (Susan Hill)
Would is always correct with persons other than the first person
singular and plural.
See also should and would
4.28 I who, you who, etc.
The verb following a personal pronoun (I, you, he, etc.) + who should
agree with the pronoun and should not be in the third person singular
unless the third person singular pronoun precedes who:
I, who have no savings to speak of, had to pay for the work
This remains so even if the personal pronoun is in the objective case:
They made me, who have no savings at all, pay for the work
(not who has)
When it is (it was, etc.) precedes I who, etc., the same rule applies:
the verb agrees with the personal pronoun:
It's I who have done it
It could have been we who were mistaken
Informal usage sometimes permits the third person to be used (especially
when the verb to be follows who):
You who's supposed to be so practical!
Is it me who's supposed to be keeping an eye on you?
(Character in work by David Lodge)
° This is not acceptable in formal usage.
The objective case of personal pronouns is always used after the
adjectives like and unlike:
Unlike my mother and me, my sister is fair-haired
(not Unlike my mother and I)
When the adverbial suffix -ly is added to an adjective which already ends
in -ly, the resulting adverb tends to have an unpleasant jingling sound,
Adverbs of this kind are divided into three groups, here arranged in order
of decreasing acceptability:
1. Those formed from adjectives in which the final -ly is an integral
part of the word, not a suffix, e.g. holily, jollily, sillily. These
are the least objectionable and are quite often used.
2. Those of three syllables formed from adjectives in which the final -ly
is itself a suffix, e.g. friendlily, ghastlily, statelily, uglily.
These are occasionally found.
3. Those of four (or more) syllables formed from adjectives in which the
final -ly is itself a suffix, e.g. heavenlily, scholarlily. Such
words have been recorded but are deservedly rare.
The adverbs of groups 2 and 3 should be avoided if possible, by using the
adjective with a noun like manner or way, e.g. In a scholarly manner.
A few adjectives in -ly can be used adverbially to qualify other
adjectives, e.g. beastly cold, ghastly pale. Occasionally, to avoid the
use of an adverb in -lily, the plain adjective has been used to qualify a
Then I strolled leisurely along those dear, dingy streets
(W. Somerset Maugham)
This does not usually sound natural. It is recommended that in a leisurely
(etc.) way should be used instead.
4.31 may or might
There is sometimes confusion about whether to use may or might with the
perfect infinitive referring to a past event, e.g. He may have done or He
might have done.
1. If uncertainty about the action or state denoted by the perfect
infinitive remains, i.e. at the time of speaking or writing the truth
of the event is still unknown, then either may or might is acceptable:
As they all wore so many different clothes of identically the same
kind...there may have been several more or several less
For all we knew we were both bastards, although of course there
might have been a ceremony (Graham Greene)
2. If there is no longer uncertainty about the event, or the matter was
never put to the test, and therefore the event did not in fact occur,
If that had come ten days ago my whole life might have
been different (Evelyn Waugh)
You should not have let him come home alone, he might
have got lost
° It is a common error to use may instead of might in these
If he (President Galtieri) had not invaded,
then eventually the islands may have fallen into their lap
I am grateful for his intervention without which they
may have remained in the refugee camp indefinitely
Schoenberg may never have gone atonal but for the
break-up of his marriage
(These are all from recent newspaper articles. Might should be
substituted for may in each.)
4.32 measurement, nouns of
There is some uncertainty about when to use the singular form, and when
the plural, of nouns of measurement.
1. All nouns of measurement remain in the singular form when compounded
with a numeral and used attributively before another noun:
A six-foot wall A five-pound note
A three-mile walk A 1,000-megaton bomb
This rule includes metric measurements:
A ten-hectare field A three-litre bottle
2. Foot remains in the singular form in expressions such as:
I am six foot She is five foot two
But feet is used where an adjective, or the word inches, follows, e.g.
I am six feet tall She is five feet three inches
It is ten feet long
Stone and hundredweight remain in the singular form in plural expressions,
I weigh eleven stone Three hundredweight of coal
Metric measurements always take the plural form when not used
This measures three metres by two metres
Two kilos of sugar
Informally, some other nouns of measurement are used in the singular form
in plural expressions, e.g.
That will be two pound fifty, please
° This is non-standard.
See also quantity, nouns of
The verb to need, when followed by an infinitive, can be used either like
an ordinary verb or like an auxiliary.
1. Need is used like an ordinary verb, and followed by the to-
infinitive, in the present tense when the sentence is neither negative
nor interrogative, in the past tense always, and in all compound
tenses (e.g. the future and perfect):
One needs friends, one needs to be a friend
One did not need to be a clairvoyant to see that war...was coming
2. Need can be used like an auxiliary verb in the present tense in
negative and interrogative sentences. This means that:
a. The third person singular need not add -s:
I do not think one need look farther than this
b. For the negative, need not can replace does not need:
One need not be an advocate of censorship to recommend the
cautious use of poison (Frederic Raphael)
c. For the interrogative, need I (you, etc.) can replace do l need:
Need I add that she is my bitterest enemy? (G. B. Shaw)
d. The bare infinitive can follow instead of the to-infinitive:
Company that keeps them smaller than they need be
(This is negative in sense, for it implies They need not be
as small as this)
This auxiliary verb use is optional, not obligatory. The regular
constructions are equally correct:
I do not think one needs to look...
One does not need to be...
Do l need to add...
Smaller than they need to be...
One should choose whichever sounds more natural. It is important,
however, to avoid mixing the two kinds of construction, as in the two
One needs not be told that (etc.)
What proved vexing, it needs be said was (etc.)
Two singular subjects linked by neither...nor can be constructed with
either a singular or a plural verb. Strictly and logically a singular verb
is required (since both subjects are not thought of as governing the verb
at the same time). When the two subjects are straightforward third person
pronouns or nouns, it is best to follow this rule:
Neither he nor his wife has arrived
There is neither a book nor a picture in the house
Informal usage permits the plural and it has been common in the writings
of good authors for a long time:
Neither painting nor fighting feed men (Ruskin)
When one of the two subjects is plural and the other singular, the verb
should be made plural and the plural subject placed nearer to it:
Neither the teacher nor the pupils understand the problem
When one of the subjects is I or you and the other is a third person
pronoun or a noun, or when one is I and the other you, the verb can be
made to agree with the subject that is nearer to it. However, this does
not always sound natural, e.g.
Neither my son nor I am good at figures
One can recast the sentence, but this can spoil the effect intended by
using neither...nor. It is often better to use the plural, as good writers
Neither Isabel nor I are timid people (H. G. Wells)
Neither Emily nor I were quite prepared for the title
This is not illogical if neither...nor is regarded as the negative of
The pronoun none can be followed either by singular verb and singular
pronouns, or by plural ones. Either is acceptable, although the plural
tends to be more common.
Singular: None of them was allowed to forget for a moment
Plural: None of the fountains ever play (Evelyn Waugh)
None of the authors expected their books to become
best-sellers (Cyril Connolly)
A participle used in place of a verb in a subordinate clause must have an
explicit subject to qualify. If no subject precedes the participle within
the clause, the participle is understood to qualify the subject of the
main sentence. In the following sentences the participles running and
propped qualify the subjects she and we:
Running to catch a bus, she just missed it (Anthony Powell)
We both lay there, propped on our elbows (Lynne Reid Banks)
It is a frequent error to begin a sentence with a participial clause, with
no subject expressed, and to continue it with a main clause in which the
subject is not the word which the participle qualifies:
Driving along the road, the church appeared on our left
(We, not the church, is the subject of driving)
Having been relieved of his portfolio in 1976, the scheme
was left to his successor at the Ministry to complete
(He, or a proper name, is the subject of having been relieved)
In sentences like these one must either recast the main clause so that its
subject is the same as that of the subordinate clause, or recast the
subordinate clause using a finite verb:
Driving along the road, we saw the church appear on our left
As we were driving along the road the church appeared on our left
Sometimes a subject can be supplied in the participial clause, the clause
remaining otherwise unchanged. This is usually only possible when the
participle is being or having:
Jones having been relieved of his portfolio in 1976, the scheme was
left to his successor at the Ministry to complete
If the subject supplied in accordance with this rule is a personal pronoun
it should be in the subjective case:
He being such a liar, no one will believe him when he tells the truth
He rose bearing her, she still weeping, and the others formed
a procession behind (Iris Murdoch)
When the participial clause includes a subject it should not be separated
by a comma from the participle:
Bernadette being her niece, she feels responsible for the girl's
moral welfare (David Lodge)
(Not: Bernadette, being her niece, she...)
This in contrast with the punctuation of the other kind of participial
clause, in which the participle qualifies the subject of the main
sentence. If this type of participial clause follows the subject, it is
either marked off by a pair of commas or not marked off at all:
The man, hoping to escape, jumped on to a bus
A man carrying a parcel jumped on to the bus
The rule that a participle must have an explicit subject does not apply to
participial clauses whose subject is indefinite (= 'one' or 'people'). In
these the clause is used adverbially, standing apart from and commenting
on the content of the sentence:
Judging from his appearance, he has had a night out
Taking everything into consideration, you were lucky to escape
Roughly speaking, this is how it went
The participial clauses here are equivalent to 'If one judges...' 'If one
takes...' 'If one speaks..' Expressions of this kind are entirely
4.39 preposition at end
It is a natural feature of the English language that many sentences and
clauses end with a preposition, and has been since the earliest times. The
alleged rule that forbids the placing of the preposition at the end of a
clause or sentence should be disregarded.
The preposition cannot be moved to an earlier place in many sentences,
What did you do that for?
What a mess this room is in!
The bed had not been slept in
She was good to look at and easy to talk to (W. Somerset Maugham)
There are other kinds of construction which, generally speaking, allow a
choice between placing the preposition at the end or placing it
earlier--principally relative clauses, in which the preposition can stand
before the relative pronoun if it is not placed finally. The choice is
very often a matter of style. The preposition has been placed before the
relative pronoun in:
The present is the only time in which any duty can be done
(C. S. Lewis)
The...veteran for whom nothing has been real since the
Big Push (David Lodge)
But it stands at or near the end in:
Harold's Philistine outlook, which she had acquiesced in
for ten years (L. P. Hartley)
The sort of attentive memory...that I should have become accustomed
to (C. P. Snow)
But notice that some prepositions cannot come at the end:
An annual sum, in return for which she agreed to give me house
room (William Trevor)
During which week will the festival be held?
It would be unnatural to write Which she agreed to give me house room in
return for, and Which week will the festival be held during?
Conversely, some relative clauses will not allow the preposition to stand
before the relative pronoun:
The opposition (that) I ran up against was fierce
A sort of world apart which one can quite easily go through life
without ever hearing about (George Orwell)
These cannot be changed to:
The opposition against which I ran up...
A sort of world apart without ever hearing about which...
One should be guided by what sounds natural. There is no need to alter the
position of the preposition merely in deference to the alleged rule.
4.40 quantity, nouns of
The numerals hundred, thousand, million, billion, trillion, and the words
dozen and score are sometimes used in the singular and sometimes in the
1. They always have the singular form if they are qualified by a
preceding word, whether it is singular (e.g. a, one) or plural (e.g.
many, several, two, three, etc.), and whether or not they are used
attributively before a noun or with nothing following:
A hundred days
Three hundred will be enough
I will take two dozen
Two dozen eggs
° The use of the plural form after a plural qualifier and when nothing
follows is incorrect:
The population is now three millions (correctly three million)
Although they have the singular form, they always take plural verbs,
even after the indefinite article:
There were about a dozen of them approaching (Anthony Powell)
There were a score of them at a table apart (J. I. M. Stewart)
2. They take the plural form when they denote indefinite quantities.
Usually they are followed by of or stand alone:
Are there any errors?--Yes, hundreds
He has dozens of friends
Many thousands of people are homeless
The reflexive pronouns are normally used to refer back to the subject of
the clause or sentence in which they occur, e.g.
I congratulated myself on outwitting everyone else
Can't you do anything for yourself?
Sometimes it is permissible to use a reflexive pronoun to refer to someone
who is not the subject. Very often the person referred to may be the
subject of a preceding or following clause, e.g.
It was their success, both with myself and others, that confirmed
me in what has since been my career (Evelyn Waugh)
You have the feeling that all their adventures have happened to
yourself (George Orwell)
He was furious with the woman, with a rancorous anger that surprised
himself (Joyce Cary)
In each of the above, there is a nearby me, you, or he to which the
reflexive refers, but to have written me, you, and him respectively in
these sentences would not have been grammatically incorrect.
A reflexive pronoun is often used after such words as
as but for like
as for except than
but except for
E.g. For those who, like himself, felt it indelicate to raise an umbrella
in the presence of death (Iris Murdoch)
It can be a very useful way to avoid the difficult choice between I, he,
she, etc. (which often sounds stilted) and me, him, her, etc. (which are
grammatically incorrect) after the words as, but, and than, e.g.
None of them was more surprised than myself that I'd spoken
(Lynne Reid Banks)
Here than I would be strictly correct, while than me would be informal.
Naturally a reflexive pronoun cannot be used in the ways outlined above if
confusion would result. One would not write:
John was as surprised as himself that he had been appointed
but would substitute the person's name, or he himself was, for himself, or
recast the sentence.
A relative clause is a clause introduced by a relative pronoun and used to
qualify a preceding noun or pronoun (called its antecedent), e.g. The
visitor (antecedent) whom (relative pronoun) you were expecting (remainder
of relative clause) has arrived; He who hesitates is lost.
Exceptionally, there are nominal relative clauses in which the antecedent
and relative pronoun are combined in one wh-pronoun, e.g. What you need is
a drink: see what (relative pronoun).
Relative clauses can be either restrictive or non-restrictive. A
restrictive relative clause serves to restrict the reference of the
antecedent, e.g. A suitcase which has lost its handle is useless. Here the
antecedent suitcase is defined or restricted by the clause.
A non-restrictive relative clause is used not to narrow the reference of
the antecedent, but to add further information, e.g. He carried the
suitcase, which had lost its handle, on one shoulder. Here the suitcase is
already identified, and the relative clause adds explanatory information.
Notice that no commas are used to mark off a restrictive relative clause
from the rest of the sentence, but when, as above, a non-restrictive
relative clause comes in the middle of the sentence, it is marked off by a
comma at each end.
There are two kinds of relative pronouns:
(i) The wh-type: who, whom, whose, which, and, in nominal relative clauses
(ii) The pronoun that (which can be omitted in some circumstances: see
that (relative pronoun), omission of.
When one relative clause is followed by another, the second relative
(a) may or may not be preceded by a conjunction; and
(b) may or may not be omitted.
(a) A conjunction is not required if the second relative clause qualifies
an antecedent which is a word inside the first relative clause:
I found a firm which had a large quantity of components
for which they had no use
Here for which...use qualifies components which is part of the relative
clause qualifying firm. And or but should not be inserted before for
But if the two clauses are parallel, both qualifying the same antecedent,
a conjunction is required:
Help me with these shelves which I have to take home but
which will not fit in my car
(b) The second relative pronoun can be omitted if (i) it qualifies the
same antecedent as the first, and (ii) it plays the same part in its
clause as the first (i.e. subject or object):
George, who takes infinite pains and (who)
never cuts corners, is our most dependable worker
Here the second who qualifies the same antecedent (George) as the first
who, and, like it, is the subject of its clause. It can therefore be
But if the second relative pronoun plays a different part in its clause,
it cannot be omitted:
George, whom everybody likes but who rarely goes
to a party, is shy
Here the first relative pronoun, whom, is the object, the second, who, is
the subject, in their clauses. The second relative pronoun must be kept.
This rule applies even if the two pronouns have the same form; it is the
function that counts:
Like a child spelling out the letters of a word which he
cannot read and which if he could would have meaning
The second which cannot be omitted.
preposition at end,
that (relative pronoun), omission of,
what (relative pronoun),
which or that (relative pronouns),
who and whom (interrogative and relative pronouns),
who or which (relative pronouns),
whose or of which in relative clauses,
who/whom or that (relative pronouns).
4.43 shall and will
'The horror of that moment', the King went on, 'I shall never, never
forget!' 'You will, though,' the Queen said, 'if you don't make a
memorandum of it.' (Lewis Carroll)
There is considerable confusion about when to use shall and will. Put
simply, the traditional rule in standard British English is:
1. In the first person, singular and plural.
a. I shall, we shall express the simple future, e.g.
I am not a manual worker and please God I never shall be one
In the following pages we shall see good words...losing
their edge (C. S. Lewis)
b. I will, we will express intention or determination on the part of
the speaker (especially a promise made by him or her), e.g.
I will take you to see her tomorrow morning
(P. G. Wodehouse)
I will no longer accept responsibility for the fruitless
loss of life (Susan Hill)
'I don't think we will ask Mr. Fraser's opinion',
she said coldly (V. S. Pritchett)
2. For the second and third persons, singular and plural, the rule is
exactly the converse.
a. You, he, she, it, or they will express the simple future, e.g.
Will it disturb you if I keep the lamp on for a bit?
Seraphina will last much longer than a car. She'll probably
last longer than you will (Graham Greene)
b. You, he, she, it, or they shall express intention or determination
on the part of the speaker or someone other than the actual
subject of the verb, especially a promise made by the speaker to
or about the subject, e.g.
Today you shall be with me in Paradise (NEB)
One day you shall know my full story (Evelyn Waugh)
Shall the common man be pushed back into the mud, or shall he not?
The two uses of will, and one of those of shall, are well illustrated by:
'I will follow you to the ends of the earth,' replied
Susan, passionately. 'It will not be necessary, said George.
'I am only going down to the coal-cellar. I shall spend the
next half-hour or so there.' (P. G. Wodehouse)
In informal usage I will and we will are quite often used for the simple
I will be a different person when I live in England
(Character in work by Jean Rhys)
More often the distinction is covered up by the contracted form 'll, e.g.
I don't quite know when I'll get the time to write again
° The use of will for shall in the first person is not regarded as fully
acceptable in formal usage.
4.44 should and would
When used for (a) the future in the past or (b) the conditional,
should goes with I and we
would goes with you, he, she, it, and they
a. The future in the past. First person:
I had supposed these to be the last...I should ever
set eyes on (Anthony Powell)
Julia and I, who had left..., thinking we should not
return (Evelyn Waugh)
The person's imagined statement or thought at the time was:
These are the last I shall ever set eyes on
We shall not return
with shall, not will (see shall and will)
Second and third persons:
I told you that you would find Russian difficult to learn
He was there. Later, he would not be there
The person's statement or thought at the time was
You will find Russian difficult to learn
He will not be there
b. The conditional.
I should view with the strongest disapproval any proposal to
abolish manhood suffrage (C. S. Lewis)
If we had not hurried we should never have got a seat
Second and third persons:
If you cared about your work, you would make more effort
Isobel would almost certainly have gone in any case
In informal usage, I would and we would are very common in both kinds of
I wondered whether I would have to wear a black suit
I would have been content, I would never have repeated it
(Both examples from Graham Greene)
The use of would with the first person is understandable, because should
(in all persons) has a number of uses which can clash with the conditional
and the future in the past; sometimes the context does not make it clear,
for example, whether I should do means 'it would be the case that I did'
or 'I ought to do', e.g.
I wondered whether, when I was cross-examined
I should admit that I knew the defendant
° This use of I would and we would is not, however, regarded as fully
acceptable in formal language.
See also I should or I would
4.45 singular or plural
1. When subject and complement are different in number (i.e. one is
singular, the other plural), the verb normally agrees with the
Ships are his chief interest
Their wages were a mere pittance
Liqueur chocolates are our speciality
The Biblical The wages of sin is death reflects an obsolete idiom by
which wages took a singular verb.
The ruling passion of his life was social relationships
What we need is customers
Our speciality is liqueur chocolates
2. A plural word or phrase used as a name, title, or quotation counts as
Sons and Lovers has always been one of Lawrence's most popular novels
Coloured persons is the term applied to those of mixed white and
3. A singular phrase that happens to end with a plural word should
nevertheless be followed by a singular verb, e.g.
Everyone except the French wants (not want) Britain to join
One in six has (not have) this problem
See also -ics, nouns in, quantity, nouns of, -s plural or singular, what
The split infinitive is the name given to the separation of to from the
infinitive by means of an adverb (or sometimes an adverbial phrase), e.g.
He used to continually refer to the subject. In this the adverb
continually splits the infinitive to refer into two parts.
It is often said that an infinitive should never be split. This is an
artificial rule that can produce unnecessarily contorted sentences.
Rather, it is recommended that a split infinitive should be avoided by
placing the adverb before or after the infinitive, unless this leads to
clumsiness or ambiguity. If it does, one should either allow the split
infinitive to stand, or recast the sentence.
1. Good writers usually avoid splitting the infinitive by placing the
adverb before the infinitive:
I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon
the world-view that I acquired in childhood (George Orwell)
One meets people who have learned actually to prefer the
tinned fruit to the fresh (C. S. Lewis)
He did not want positively to suggest that she was dominant
On the other hand, it is quite natural in speech, and permissible in
writing, to say:
What could it be like to actually live in France?
To really let the fact that these mothers were mothers sink in
(Both examples from Kingsley Amis)
Only one thing stops me from jumping up and screaming..., it is
to deliberately think myself back into that hot light
2. Avoidance of ambiguity.
When an adverb closely qualifies the infinitive verb it may often be
better to split the infinitive than to move the adverb to another
position. The following example is ambiguous in writing, though in
speech stress on certain words would make the meaning clear:
It fails completely to carry conviction
Either it means 'It totally fails...', in which case completely should
precede fails, or it means ' It fails to carry complete conviction',
in which case that should be written, or the infinitive should be
3. Avoidance of clumsiness.
It took more than an excited elderly man...socially to
discompose him...(Anthony Powell)
In this example socially belongs closely with discompose: it is not
'to discompose in a social way' but 'to cause social discomposure' or
'to destroy social composure'. There are quite a number of adverb +
verb collocations of this kind. When they occur in the infinitive, it
may be better either to split the infinitive or to recast the sentence
than to separate the adverb from the verb.
4. Unavoidable split infinitive.
There are certain adverbial constructions which must immediately
precede the verb and therefore split the infinitive, e.g. more than:
Enough new ships are delivered to more than make up for
the old ones being retired
And a writer may have sound stylistic reasons for allowing a
parenthetic expression to split an infinitive:
It would be an act of gratuitous folly to, as he had put it to
Mildred, make trouble for himself at this stage (Iris Murdoch)
4.47 -s plural or singular
Some nouns, though they have the plural ending -s, are nevertheless
treated as singulars, taking singular verbs and pronouns referring back to
Measles and rickets can also be treated as ordinary plural nouns.
the Bahamas the Philippines
the Netherlands the United States
These are treated as singular when considered as a unit, which they
commonly are in a political context, or when the complement is
The Philippines is a predominantly agricultural country
The United States has withdrawn its ambassador
The Bahamas and the Philippines are also the geographical names of the
groups of islands which the two nations comprise, and in this use can
be treated as plurals, e.g.
The Bahamas were settled by British subjects
Flanders and Wales are always singular. So are the city names Athens,
Brussels, Naples, etc.
See also -ics, nouns in
4.48 subjects joined by (either...) or
When two singular subjects (either may be a noun, a pronoun, or a noun
phrase) are joined by or or either... or, the strict rule is that they
require a singular verb and singular pronouns, since or (or either... or)
indicates that only one of them is the logical subject:
Either Peter or John has had his breakfast already
A traffic warden or a policeman is always on the watch in this street
However, 'at all times there has been a tendency to use the plural with
two or more singular subjects when their mutual exclusion is not
emphasized' (OED), e.g.
On which rage or wantonness vented themselves (George Eliot)
When one of the subjects joined by or is plural, it is best to put the
verb in the plural, and place the plural subject nearer to the verb:
Either the child or the parents are to blame
When one subject is I, we, or you, and the other is a noun or a third
person pronoun, or when the subjects are you and I, the verb is usually
made to agree with the nearer of the two subjects:
Either he or I am going to win
Either he or you have got to give in
Either you or your teacher has made a mistake
This form of expression very often sounds awkward, especially when the
sentence is a question:
Am I or he going to win?
Is he or we wrong?
It is usually best to recast the sentence by adding another verb:
Am I going to win, or is he?
Is he wrong, or are we?
Either he has got to give in, or you have
The subjunctive mood is indicated by the basic form of the verb, a form
that is identical with the bare infinitive and imperative. In most verbs,
e.g. do, give, and make, this will be the same as all the persons of the
present tense except the third, which ends in -s. In the verb to be,
however, the subjunctive is be, whereas the present tense is am, are, or
is. For the past subjunctive of to be (were) see were or was
The subjunctive is normal, and quite familiar, in a number of fixed
expressions which cause no problems:
Be that as it may
Come what may
God bless you
God save the Queen
Heaven help us
Long live the Queen
So be it
Suffice it to say that
There are two other uses of the subjunctive that may cause difficulty, but
they are entirely optional. This means that the ordinary user of English
need not be troubled by the use of the subjunctive, apart from the past
1. In that-clauses after words expressing command, hope, intention, wish,
etc. Typical introducing words are
be adamant that propose that
demand that proposal that
insist that resolve that
be insistent that suggest that
insistence that suggestion that
Typical examples are:
He had been insisting that they keep the night of the
twenty-second free (C. P. Snow)
Joseph was insistent that his wishes be carried out
(W. Somerset Maugham)
Chance...dictated that l be reading Sterne when...Bellow's new
novel arrived (Frederic Raphael)
Your suggestion that I fly out (David Lodge)
Until recently this use of the subjunctive was restricted to very
formal language, where it is still usual, e.g.
The Lord Chancellor put the motion that the House go into Committee
It is, however, a usual American idiom, and is now quite acceptable in
British English, but there is no necessity to use the subjunctive in
such contexts. Should or may with the infinitive, or (especially in
informal use) the ordinary indicative, depending on the context, will
do equally well:
Your demand that he should pay the money back surprised him
I insist that the boy goes to school this minute
° Beware of constructions in which the sense hangs on a fine
distinction between subjunctive and indicative, e.g.
The most important thing for Argentina is that Britain recognize
her sovereignty over the Falklands
The implication is that Britain does not recognize it. A small slip
that changed recognize to recognizes would disastrously reverse this
implication. The use of should recognize would render the sense quite
2. In certain concessive and conditional clauses, i.e. clauses introduced
by though and if, the subjunctive can be used to express reserve on
the part of the speaker about an action or state which is contemplated
or in prospect, e.g.
Though he be the devil himself he shall do as I say
Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow
It is a fine thing if a man endure the pain of undeserved suffering (NEB)
The University is a place where a poor man, if he be virtuous,
may live a life of dignity and simplicity (A. C. Benson)
If this be true, then we are all to blame
As the examples show, this is restricted to very formal and exalted
language. It should not be used in ordinary prose, where sometimes the
indicative and sometimes an auxiliary such as may are entirely
Though he may be an expert, he should listen to advice
If this is the case, then I am in error
4.50 than, case following
A personal pronoun following than should have the case that it would have
if a verb were supplied. In the following sentences, the subjective case
is required because the personal pronoun would be the subject:
Other people have failed to grasp this, people much cleverer than I
(in full, than I am)
We pay more rent than they (in full, than they do)
In the sentence below, the objective case is used, because the pronoun
would be the object if there were a verb:
Jones treated his wife badly. I think that he liked his dog better
than her (in full, than he liked her)
Informal English permits the objective case to be used, no matter what
case the pronoun would have if a verb were supplied:
You do it very well. Much better than me
This is unacceptable in formal usage. The preferred alternative, with the
subjective, often sounds stilted. When this is so, it can be avoided by
supplying the verb:
We pay more rent than they do
The interrogative and relative pronoun whom is always used after than,
rather than the subjective form who:
Professor Smith, than whom there is scarcely anyone better
qualified to judge, believes it to be pre-Roman
4.51 that (conjunction), omission of
1. The conjunction that introducing a noun clause and used after verbs of
saying, thinking, knowing, etc., can often be omitted in informal
I told him (that) he was wrong
He knew (that) I was right
Are you sure (that) this is the place?
Generally speaking, the omission of that confers a familiar tone on
the sentence, and is not usually appropriate in formal prose.
That should never be omitted if other parts of the sentence (apart
from the indirect object) intervene:
I told him, as I have told everyone, that he was wrong
Are you sure in your own mind that this is the place?
The omission of that makes it difficult, in written prose, to follow
2. When the conjunction that is part of the correlative pairs of
conjunctions so...that and such... that, or of the compound
conjunctions so that, now that, it can be omitted in informal usage.
° It should not be omitted in formal style:
He walked so fast (or at such a speed) that
I could not keep up
I'll move my car so that you can park in the drive
Are you lonely now that your children have left home?
4.52 that (relative pronoun), omission of
The relative pronoun that can often be omitted. Its omission is much more
usual informally than formally.
In formal contexts the omission of that is best limited to relative
clauses which are fairly short and which stand next to their antecedents:
The best thing (that) you can do is make up for lost time
None of the cars (that) I saw had been damaged
Nothing (that) I could say made any difference
That cannot be omitted when it is the subject of the relative clause, e.g.
Nothing that occurred to me made any difference
None of the cars that were under cover had been damaged
See also adverbial relative clauses and way, relative clause following.
4.53 there is or there are
In a sentence introduced by there + part of the verb to be, the latter
agrees in number with the noun, noun phrase, or pronoun which follows:
There was a great deal to be said for this scheme
There are many advantages in doing it this way
In very informal language there is or there was is often heard before a
There's two coloured-glass windows in the chapel
(Character in work by Evelyn Waugh)
° This is non-standard.
The preposition to can stand at the end of a clause or sentence as a
substitute for an omitted to-infinitive, e.g.
He had tried not to think about Emma..., but of course it was
impossible not to (Iris Murdoch)
I gave him her message, as I should have been obliged to
if she had died (C. P. Snow)
An adjectival or adverbial phrase, introducing a sentence, must qualify
the subject of the sentence, e.g.
While not entirely in agreement with the plan, he had no serious
objections to it
After two days on a life-raft, the survivors were rescued by helicopter
The introductory phrases While...plan and After...life-raft qualify the
subjects he and the survivors respectively.
It is a common error to begin a sentence with a phrase of this kind,
anticipating a suitable subject, and then to continue the sentence with a
quite different subject, e.g.
After six hours without food in a plane on the perimeter at Heathrow,
the flight was cancelled
The phrase After...Heathrow anticipates a subject like the passengers: a
flight cannot spend six hours without food in a plane on an airport
perimeter. Such a sentence should either have a new beginning, e.g.
After the passengers had spent six hours...
or a new main clause, e.g.
After six hours ...Heathrow, the passengers
learnt that the flight had been cancelled
4.56 used to
The negative and interrogative of used to can be formed in two ways:
(i) Negative: used not to
Interrogative: used X to?
This formation follows the pattern of the other auxiliary verbs.
Used you to beat your mother? (G. B. Shaw)
You used not to have a moustache, used you? (Evelyn Waugh)
(ii) Negative: did not use to, didn't use to
Interrogative: did X use to?
This formation is the same as that used with regular verbs. Examples:
She didn't use to find sex revolting (John Braine)
Did you use to be a flirt? (Eleanor Farjeon)
ЬEither form is acceptable. On the whole used you to, used he to, etc.
tend to sound rather stilted.
° The correct spellings of the negative forms are:
usedn't to and didn't use to
usen't to and didn't used to
4.57 way, relative clause following
(The) way can be followed by a relative clause with or without that. There
is no need for the relative clause to contain the preposition in:
It may have been the way he smiled (Jean Rhys)
Whatever way they happened would be an ugly way
She couldn't give a dinner party the way the young lad's
mother could (William Trevor)
4.58 were or was
There is often confusion about whether to use the past subjunctive were or
the past indicative was.
Formal usage requires were
1. In conditional sentences where the condition is 'unreal', e.g.
It would probably be more marked if the subject were
more dangerous (George Orwell)
(The condition is unreal because 'the subject' is not
very 'dangerous' in fact)
If anyone were to try to save me, I would refuse
(The condition is regarded as unlikely)
2. Following as if and as though, e.g.
He wore it with an air of melancholy, as though it were
court mourning (Evelyn Waugh)
(For a permissible exception see as if, as though. in topic 3.0)
3. In that-clauses after to wish, e.g.
I wish I were going instead of you
4. In the fixed expressions As it were, If I were you
Notice that in all these constructions the clause with were refers to
something unreal, something that in fact is not or will not be the case.
Were may also be used in dependent questions, where there is doubt of the
Hilliard wondered whether Barton were not right after all
Her mother suddenly demanded to know if she were pregnant
This is not obligatory even in very formal prose. Was is acceptable
4.59 we (with phrase following)
Expressions consisting of we or us followed by a qualifying word or
phrase, e.g. we English, us English, are often misused with the wrong case
of the first person plural pronoun. In fact the rules are exactly the same
as for we or us standing alone.
If the expression is the subject, we should be used:
(Correct) Not always laughing as heartily as
we English are supposed to do (J. B. Priestley)
(Incorrect) We all make mistakes, even us
anarchists (Character in work by Alison Lurie)
(Substitute we anarchists)
If the expression is the object or the complement of a preposition, us
should be used:
(Correct) To us English, Europe is not a
very vivid conception
(Incorrect) The Manchester Guardian has said some
nice things about we in the North-East
4.60 what (relative pronoun)
What can be used as a relative pronoun only when introducing nominal
relative clauses, e.g.
So much of what you tell me is strange, different from
what I was led to expect (Jean Rhys)
In this kind of relative clause, the antecedent and relative pronoun are
combined in the one word what, which can be regarded as equivalent to that
which or the thing(s) which.
° What cannot act as a relative pronoun qualifying an antecedent in
standard English. This use is found only in non-standard speech, e.g.
The young gentleman what's arranged everything
(Character in work by Evelyn Waugh)
A what-clause used as the subject of a sentence almost always takes a
singular verb, even if there is plural complement, e.g.
What one first became aware of was the pictures
(J. I. M. Stewart)
What interests him is less events...than the reverberations they set up
Very occasionally the form of the sentence may under the plural more
What once were great houses are now petty offices
I have few books, and what there are do not help me
4.61 which or that (relative pronouns)
There is a degree of uncertainty about whether to use which or that as the
relative pronoun qualifying a non-personal antecedent (for personal
antecedents see who/whom or that (relative pronouns).
The general rule is that which is used in relative clauses to which the
reader's attention is to be drawn, while that is used in clauses which
mention what is already known or does not need special emphasis.
Which is almost always used in non-restrictive clauses, i.e. those that
add further information about an antecedent already defined by other words
or the context. Examples:
The men are getting rum issue, which they deserve (Susan Hill)
Narrow iron beds with blue rugs on them, which Miss Fanshawe
has to see are all kept tidy (William Trevor)
° The use of that in non-restrictive clauses should be avoided. It is not
uncommon in informal speech, and is sometimes employed by good writers to
suggest a tone of familiarity, e.g.
Getting out of Alec's battered old car that looked
as if it had been in collision with many rocks, Harold
had a feeling of relief (L. P. Hartley)
It should not, however, be used in ordinary prose.
Both which and that can be used in restrictive relative clauses, i.e.
clauses that limit or define the antecedent.
There is no infallible rule to determine which should be used. Some
1. Which preferred.
a. Clauses which add significant information often sound better with
Was I counting on Israel to work some miracle which would
give me the strength? (Lynne Reid Banks)
Not nearly enough for the social position which they had
to keep up (D. H. Lawrence)
b. Clauses which are separated from their antecedent, especially when
separated by another noun, sound better with which, e.g.
Larry told her the story of the young airman which I narrated
at the beginning of this book (W.Somerset Maugham)
c. When a preposition governs the relative pronoun, which preceded by
the preposition is often a better choice than that with the
preposition at the end of the sentence (see also preposition at
I'm telling you about a dream in which ordinary things
are marvellous (William Trevor)
(A dream that ordinary things are marvellous in would not
The inheritance to which we are born is one that nothing can
(The inheritance that we are born to would sound very informal
and unsuited to the context)
2. That preferred.
In clauses that do not fall into the above categories that can usually
be used. There is no reason to reject that if
a. the antecedent is impersonal,
b. the clause is restrictive,
c. no preposition precedes the relative pronoun, and
d. the sentence does not sound strained or excessively colloquial.
I read the letters, none of them very revealing, that littered
his writing table (Evelyn Waugh)
He fell back on the old English courtesy that he had
consciously perfected to combat the increasing irritability
that came with old age and arthritis (Angus Wilson)
In these examples, which would be acceptable, but is not necessary.
When the antecedent is an indefinite pronoun (e.g. anything, everything,
nothing, something) or contains a superlative adjective qualifying the
impersonal antecedent (e.g. the biggest car, the most expensive hat)
English idiom tends to prefer that to which:
Is there nothing small that the children could buy you for
This is the most expensive hat that you could have
Note that that can sometimes be used when one is not sure whether to use
who or which:
This was the creature, neither child nor woman, that drove
me through the dusk that summer evening (Evelyn Waugh)
4.62 who and whom (interrogative and relative pronouns)
1. Formal usage restricts the use of the interrogative and relative
pronoun who to the subject of the clause only, e.g.
I who'd never read anything before but the newspaper
(W. Somerset Maugham)
When the pronoun is the object or the complement of a preposition,
whom must be used:
Why are we being served by a man whom neither of us likes?
The real question is food (or freedom) for whom
(C. S. Lewis)
A midget nobleman to whom all doors were open
° The use of who as object or prepositional complement is acceptable
informally, but should not be carried over into serious prose, e.g.
Who are you looking for?
The person who I'm looking for is rather elusive
See also than, case following
2. Whom for who.
Whom is sometimes mistakenly used for who because the writer believes
it to be the object, or the complement of a preposition.
a. For the interrogative pronoun the rule is: the case of the pronoun
who/whom is determined by its role in the interrogative clause,
not by any word in the main clause:
He never had any doubt about who was the real credit to the
family (J. I. M. Stewart)
Who here is the subject of was. One should not be confused by
about, which governs the whole clause, not who alone.
The error is seen in:
Whom among our poets...could be called one of the
interior decorators of the 1950s?
(Read Who..because it is the subject of the passive verb be
Whom is correct in:
He knew whom it was from (L. P. Hartley)
(Here whom is governed by from)
Whom he was supposed to be fooling, he couldn't imagine (David Lodge)
(Here whom is the object of fooling)
b. For the relative pronoun, when followed by a parenthetic clause
such as they say, he thinks, I believe, etc., the rule is: the
case of the pronoun who/whom is determined by the part it plays in
the relative clause if the parenthetic statement is omitted:
Sheikh Yamani who they say is the richest man in the Middle East
(Not whom they say since who is the subject of is, not the object
But whom is correct in:
Sheikh Yamani whom they believe to be the richest man in
the Middle East
Here they believe is not parenthetic, since it could not be
removed leaving the sentence intact. Whom is its object: the
simple clause would be They believe him to be the richest man.
See also I who, you who, etc.
4.63 who or which (relative pronouns)
If a wh-pronoun is used to introduce a relative clause it must be who
(whom) if the antecedent is personal, e.g.
Suzanne was a woman who had no notion of reticence
(W. Somerset Maugham)
But it must be which if the antecedent is non-personal. e.g.
There was a suppressed tension about her which made me
nervous (Lynne Reid Banks)
If the relative clause is non-restrictive, i.e. it adds significant new
information about an antecedent already defined, the wh-type of pronoun
must be used (as above).
If the relative clause is restrictive, i.e. it defines or limits the
reference of the antecedent, one can use either the appropriate wh-pronoun
(as indicated above), or the non-variable pronoun that. For guidance about
this choice see which or that (relative pronouns), who/whom or that
4.64 whose or of which in relative clauses
The relative pronoun whose can be used as the possessive of which, i.e.
with reference to a non-personal antecedent, just as much as it can as the
possessive of who. The rule sometimes enunciated that of which must always
be used after a non-personal antecedent should be ignored, as it is by
good writers, e.g.
The little book whose yellowish pages she knew
A robe whose weight and stiff folds expressed her repose
A narrow side street, whose windows had flower boxes and
painted shutters (Doris Lessing)
In some sentences, of which would he almost impossible, e.g.
The lawns about whose closeness of cut his father worried
the gardener daily (Susan Hill)
There is, of course, no rule prohibiting of which if it sounds natural,
A little town the name of which I have forgotten
(W. Somerset Maugham)
Whose can only be used as the non-personal possessive in relative clauses.
Interrogative whose refers only to persons, as in Whose book is this?
4.65 who/whom or that (relative pronouns)
In formal usage, who/whom is always acceptable as the relative pronoun
following an antecedent that denotes a person. (For the choice between
who and whom see who and whom (interrogative and relative pronouns).
In non-restrictive relative clauses, i.e. those which add significant new
information about an antecedent already defined, who/whom is obligatory,
It was not like Coulter, who was a cheerful man
In restrictive relative clauses, i.e those which define or limit the
reference of the antecedent, who/whom is usually quite acceptable:
The masters who taught me Divinity told me that biblical
texts were highly untrustworthy (Evelyn Waugh)
It is generally felt that the relative pronoun that is more impersonal
than who/whom, and is therefore slightly depreciatory if applied to a
person. Hence it tends to be avoided in formal usage.
(i) the relative pronoun is the object, and
(ii) the personality of the antecedent is suppressed
that may well be appropriate, e.g.
Then the woman that they actually caught and pinned down
would not have been Margot (Evelyn Waugh)
They looked now just like the GIs that one saw in Viet Nam
Informally that is acceptable with any personal antecedent, e.g.
You got it from the man that stole the horse
Honey, it's me that should apologize
° This should be avoided in formal style.
4.66 you and I or you and me
When a personal pronoun is linked by and or or to a noun or another
pronoun there is often confusion about which case to put the pronoun in.
In fact the rule is exactly as it would be for the pronoun standing alone.
1. If the two words linked by and or or constitute the subject, the
pronoun should be in the subjective case, e.g.
Only she and her mother cared for the old house
That's what we would do, that is, John and I
Who could go?--Either you or he
The use of the objective case is quite common informal speech, but it
is non-standard, e.g. examples from the speech of characters in
Perhaps only her and Mrs Natwick had stuck to the
christened name (Patrick White)
That's how we look at it, me and Martha
Either Mary had to leave or me (David Lodge)
If the two words linked by and or or constitute the object of the
verb, or the complement of a reposition, the objective case must be
The afternoon would suit her and John better
It was time for Sebastian and me to go down to the
drawing-room (Evelyn Waugh)
The use of the subjective case is very common formally. It probably arises
from an exaggerated fear of the error indicated under 1 above.
° It remains, however, non-standard, e.g.
It was this that set Charles and I talking of old times
Why is it that people like you and I are so unpopular?
(Character in work by William Trevor)
Between you and I
This last expression is very commonly heard. Between you and me should
always be substituted.
A.0 Appendix A. Principles of Punctuation
1. Links two grammatically complete clauses, but marks a step forward,
from introduction to main theme, from cause to effect, or from premiss
to conclusion, e.g. To commit sin is to break God's law: sin, in fact,
2. Introduces a list of items (a dash should not be added), e.g. The
following were present: J. Smith, J. Brown, P. Thompson, M. Jones. It
is used after such expressions as for example, namely, the following,
to resume, to sum up.
The least emphatic separating mark of punctuation, used:
1. Between adjectives which each qualify a noun in the same way, e.g. A
cautious, eloquent man.
But when adjectives qualify the noun in different ways, or when one
adjective qualifies another, no comma is used, e.g. A distinguished
foreign author, a bright red tie.
2. To separate items (including the last) in a list of more than two
items, e.g. Potatoes, peas, and carrots; Potatoes, peas, or carrots;
Potatoes, peas, etc.; Red, white, and blue.
° But A black and white TV set.
3. To separate co-ordinated main clauses, e.g. Cars will turn here, and
coaches will go straight on. But not when they are closely linked,
e.g. Do as I tell you and you'll never regret it.
4. To mark the beginning and end of a parenthetical word or phrase, e.g.
I am sure, however, that it will not happen; Fred, who is bald,
complained of the cold.
° Not with restrictive relative clauses, e.g. Men who are bald should
5. After a participial or verbless clause, a salutation, or a vocative,
e.g. Having had breakfast, I went for a walk; The sermon over, the
congregation filed out or The sermon being over, (etc.); My son, give
me thy heart.
° Not The sermon, being over, (etc.)
° No comma with expressions like My friend Lord X or My son John.
6. To separate a phrase or subordinate clause from the main clause so as
to avoid misunderstanding, e.g. In the valley below, the villages
looked very small; He did not go to church, because he was playing
golf; In 1982, 1918 seemed a long time ago.
° A comma should not be used to separate a phrasal subject from its
predicate, or a verb from an object that is a clause: A car with such
a highpowered engine, should not let you down and They believed, that
nothing could go wrong are both incorrect.
7. Following words introducing direct speech, e.g. They answered, 'Here
8. Following Dear Sir, Dear John, etc., in letters, and after Yours
° No comma is needed between month and year in dates, e.g. In December
1982 or between number and road in addresses, e.g. 12 Acacia Avenue.
1. The en rule is distinct (in print) from the hyphen (see hyphens and is
used to join pairs or groups of words wherever movement or tension,
rather than cooperation or unity, is felt: it is often equivalent to
to or versus, e.g. The 1914-18 war; current-voltage characteristic;
The London-Horsham-Brighton route; The Fischer-Spassky match; The
° Note The Marxist-Leninist position; The Franco-Prussian war with
It is also used for joint authors, e.g. The Lloyd-Jones hypothesis
(two men), distinct from The Lloyd-Jones hypothesis (one man with
2. The em rule (the familiar dash) is used to mark an interruption in the
structure of a sentence. A pair of them can be used to enclose a
parenthetic remark or to make the ending and resumption of a statement
interrupted by an interlocutor; e.g. He was not--you may disagree
with me, Henry--much of an artist; 'I didn't--' 'Speak up, boy!'--hear
anything; I was just standing near by.' It can be used informally to
replace the colon (use 1).
A.6 exclamation mark
Used after an exclamatory word, phrase, or sentence. It usually counts as
the concluding full stop, but need not, e.g. Hail source of Being!
universal Soul! It may also be used within square brackets, after a
quotation, to express the editor's amusement, dissent, or surprise.
A.7 full stop
1. Used at the end of all sentences which are not questions or
exclamations. The next word should normally begin with a capital
2. Used after abbreviations: see abbreviationsIf a point making an
abbreviation comes at the end of a sentence, it also serves as the
closing full stop, e.g. She also kept dogs, cats, birds, etc. but She
also kept pets (dogs, cats, birds, etc.).
3. When a sentence concludes with a quotation which itself ends with a
full stop, question mark, or exclamation mark, no further full stop is
needed, e.g. He cried 'Be off!' But the child would not move. But if
the quotation is a short statement, and the introducing sentence has
much greater weight, the full stop is put outside the quotation marks,
e.g. Over the entrance to the temple at Delphi were written the words
A.11 question mark
1. Follows every question which expects a separate answer. The next word
should begin with a capital letter.
° Not used after indirect questions, e.g. He asked me why I was there.
2. May be placed before a word, etc., whose accuracy is doubted, e.g. T.
A.12 quotation marks
1. Single quotation marks are used for a first quotation; double for a
quotation within this; single again for a further quotation inside
2. The closing quotation mark should come before all punctuation marks
unless these form part of the quotation itself, e.g. Did Nelson really
say 'Kiss me, Hardy'? but Then she asked 'What is your name?' (see
also full stop 3 in topic A.7).
The comma at the end of a quotation, when words such as he said
follow, is regarded as equivalent to the final full stop of the
speaker's utterance, and is kept inside the quotation, e.g. 'That is
nonsense,' he said. The commas on either side of he said, etc., when
these words interrupt the quotation, should be outside the quotation
marks, e.g. 'That', he said, 'is nonsense.' But the first comma goes
inside the quotation marks if it would be part of the utterance even
if there were no interruption, e.g. 'That, my dear fellow,' he said,
3. Quotation marks (and roman type) are used when citing titles of
articles in magazines, chapters of books, poems not published
separately, and songs.
° Not for titles of books of the Bible; nor for any passage that
represents only the substance of an extract, or has any grammatical
alterations, and is not a verbatim quotation.
Titles of books and magazines are usually printed in italic.
Separates those parts of a sentence between which there is a more distinct
break than would call for a comma, but which are too closely connected to
be made into separate sentences. Typically these will be clauses of
similar importance and grammatical construction, e.g. To err is human; to
Enclose comments, corrections, explanations, interpolations, notes, or
translations, which were not in the original text, but have been added by
subsequent authors, editors, or others, e.g. My right honourable friend
[John Smith] is mistaken.
B.0 Appendix B. Clich‚s and Modish and Inflated Diction
A clich‚ is a phrase that has become worn out and emptied of meaning by
over-frequent and careless use. Never to use clich‚s at all would be
impossible: they are too common, and too well embedded in the fabric of
the language. On many occasions they can be useful in communicating simple
ideas economically, and are often a means of conveying general
sociability. When writing serious prose, however, in which clear and
precise communication is intended, one should guard against allowing
clich‚s to do the work which the words of one's own choosing could do
better. 'Modish and inflated diction' is a rough and ready way of
referring to a body of words and phrases that is familiar, but hard to
delineate and delimit. In origin some of these expressions are often
scientific or technical and are, in their original context, assigned a
real and useful meaning; others are the creation of popular writers and
broadcasters. What they all have in common is their grip on the popular
mind, so that they have come to be used in all kinds of general contexts
where they are unnecessary, ousting ordinary words that are better but
sound less impressive. As their popularity and frequency increases, so
their real denotative value drains away, a process that closely resembles
monetary inflation. As with clich‚s, it would be difficult, and not
necessarily desirable, to ban these expressions from our usage completely,
but, again, one should carefully guard against using them either because
they sound more learned and up to date than the more commonplace words in
one's vocabulary, or as a short cut in communicating ideas that would be
better set out in simple, clear, basic vocabulary.
The list that follows does not claim to be an exhaustive collection of
clich‚s or of modish diction, but presents some contemporary expressions
which are most frequently censured and are avoided by good writers.
actual (tautologous or meaningless,
e.g. Is this an actual Roman coin?)
actually (as a filler, e.g. Actually it's time I was going)
articulate (verb = express)
at the end of the day
at this moment (or point) in time
-awareness (e.g. brand-awareness)
ball game (a different, etc., -)
basically (as a filler)
by and large (sometimes used with no meaning)
-centred (e.g. discovery-centred)
conspicuous by one's absence
constructive (used tautologously, e.g. A constructive suggestion)
-deprivation (e.g. status-deprivation)
dimension (= feature, factor)
-directed (e.g. task-directed)
dispense (= give)
escalate (= increase, intensify)
eventuate (= result)
framework (in the framework of)
fresh (= new, renewed, etc.)
grind to a halt (= end, stop)
identify (= find, discover)
if you like (explanatory tag)
in terms of
in the order of (= about)
in this day and age
-ize (suffix, forming vogue words, e.g. normalize,
permanentize, prioritize, respectabilize)
leave severely alone
look closely at
loved ones (= relatives)
low profile (keep, or maintain, a-)
meaningful (can often be omitted without any change in meaning)
methodology (= method)
-minded (e.g. company-minded)
name of the game, the
-oriented (e.g. marketing-oriented)
persona (= character)
proliferation (= a number)
real (especially in very real)
-related (e.g. church-related)
simplistic (= oversimplified)
sort of (as a filler)
spell (= mean, involve)
target (figuratively used)
terminate (= end)
totality of, the
track-record (= record)
until such time as
utilize (= use)
you know (as a filler)
you name it
See also the entries in Vocabulary for:
antithetical hopefully ongoing
author impact overly
aware industrial action overview
character interface parameter
crucial ironic pivotal
decimate limited predicate
dichotomy literally pre-empt
differential locate pristine
dilemma maximize proportion
event (in the nature region (in the
event that) region of)
excess (in excess of) neighbourhood (in the scenario
exposure no way situation
feasible obligate substantial
C.0 Appendix C. English Overseas
Outside the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, English is an
important language in many countries, and the major language of four-the
United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand-and of a large minority
in another, South Africa. Despite the great distances separating these
five English-speaking communities from each other and from the British
Isles, and the great social and cultural differences between them, the
forms of English which they use remain mutually intelligible to a
remarkable degree. Partly this is because all English-speaking
communities have held to a standard spelling system. There are a number of
points of difference in spelling between the English of the United States
and that of Britain (the other communities follow the British mode, except
that many US spellings are usual, or acceptable, in Canada); but these are
all relatively minor. The major differences are in pronunciation,
vocabulary, and, to a lesser degree, grammar.
C.1 1. The United States
The main differences between General American pronunciation and British
Received Pronunciation are set out on pp. 78-9. The General American
accent is a supra-regional way of speaking acceptable throughout the
country, but there are very marked differences of accent between different
regions of the United States. Two varieties familiar in Great Britain are
'Brooklynese' (the New York City accent), in which earl and oil sound
alike (the sound is somewhere between the two), and the southern 'drawl'
(the accent of the states from Virginia southward) in which I and time
sound like ah and tahm.
The difference in vocabulary between American and British English is too
well known to need extensive illustration. Most British people are
familiar with many American equivalents for British terms, e.g. bathrobe
(dressing gown), checkers (draughts), cookie (biscuit), elevator (lift),
flyer (handbill), gas (petrol), vest (waistcoat). It is not so often
realized that many words and phrases now normal in Britain originated in
North America, e.g. to fall for, to fly off the handle, off-beat, punch
line, quiz (as a noun), round trip, round-up, to snoop. Nor is it fully
realized how many words and phrases used every day in the United States
are unknown, or nearly so, in Britain, and show no sign of being adopted
here. Many, but not all, are colloquial, e.g. realtor (estate agent),
rotunda (concourse), running gear (vehicle's wheels and axles), sassy
(cheeky), scam (fraud), scofflaw (habitual law-breaker), to second-guess
(be wise after the event), tacky (seedy, tatty). Many words have slightly
different meanings in the United States, e.g. jelly (jam), mean (nasty,
not stingy), nervy (impudent, not nervous). Some familiar words have a
slightly different form, e.g. behoove, crawfish, dollhouse, math,
normalcy, rowboat, sanitarium (British sanatorium), tidbit. There are
some notable differences between American and British grammar and
construction, e.g. aside from (apart from), back of (behind), different
than, in school, most (almost), protest (protest against), some (to some
extent), through (up to and including); he ordered them arrested, I just
ate (I have just eaten), to teach school, on the street, a quarter of ten.
While, therefore, the formal and literary varieties of British and
American English are mutually intelligible, the most colloquial spoken
varieties of each are in some ways very different, and each can, in some
contexts, be almost incomprehensible to a speaker of the other.
Canadian English is subject to the conflicting influences of British and
American English. On the whole British English has a literary influence,
while American has a spoken one. The Canadian accent is in most respects
identical with General American. But where British English has four vowels
in (i) bat, (ii) dance, father, (iii) hot, long, (iv) law, and General
American three, Canadian has only two: bat and dance with a front a, and
father, hot, long, and law with a back ah-sound. Peculiar to the Canadian
accent is a distinction between two varieties of the I-sound and two of
the ow-sound: light does not have the same vowel as lied, nor lout as
loud. Canadians pronounce some words in the American way, e.g. dance,
half, clerk, tomato, but others in the British way, e.g. lever, ration,
process, lieutenant, and the name of the letter Z. Some American
spellings have caught on, e.g. honor, jail, plow, program, tire, but many,
such as -er in words like center, single I in traveled, jeweler, and the
short ax, catalog, check, have not. In vocabulary there is much US
influence: Canadians use billboard, gas, truck, wrench rather than
hoarding, petrol, lorry, spanner; but on the other hand, they agree with
the British in using blinds, braces, porridge, tap, rather than shades,
suspenders, oatmeal, faucet. The Canadian vocabulary, like the American,
reflects the contact between English and various American Indian peoples,
e.g. pekan (a kind of weasel), sagamite (broth or porridge), saskatoon (a
kind of bush, or its berry). It also reflects close contact with the large
French-speaking community of Canada and with Eskimo peoples, e.g.
aboiteau (dike), inconnu (a kind of fish), to mush (travel by dog-sled);
chimo (an Eskimo greeting), kuletuk (a garment resembling a parka). And as
there have been different degrees of settlement by the various non-
English-speaking European nationalities in Canada than in the United
States, so the range of European loan-words in Canadian English is
markedly different, many American colloquialisms being unknown. On the
other hand, there are several regional dialects that differ markedly from
the standard language, notably that of Newfoundland.
C.3 3. Australia and New Zealand
There are no important differences in written form between the English of
Great Britain and that of Australia, New Zealand, or indeed South Africa.
The literary language of the four communities is virtually identical.
Grammatically, too, the English of all four is uniform, except that each
has developed its own colloquial idioms. Thus it is in the everyday spoken
language that the main differences lie. The Australian accent is marked by
a number of divergences from the British. (i) The vowels of fleece, face,
price, goose, goat, and mouth all begin with rather open, slack sounds not
unlike those used in Cockney speech. (ii) The vowels of dress, strut,
start, dance, nurse have a much closer, tighter, more fronted sound than
in RP. (iii) In unstressed syllables, typically -es or -ed (boxes,
studded), where RP would have a sound like i in pin, Australian English
has a sound like e in open or a in comma. (iv) In unstressed syllables,
typically -y, or -ie + consonant (study, studied), where RP has the sound
of i in pin, Australian English has a close -ee sound, as in tree. The
result of (iii) and (iv) is that in Australia boxes and boxers sound the
same, but studded and studied, which are the same in RP, sound different.
(v) -t- between vowels, and l, are often sounded rather as they are in
American English. A number of individual words are differently
pronounced, e.g. aquatic and auction with an o sound as in hot in the
stressed syllable; Melbourne with a totally obscured second syllable, but
Queensland with a fully pronounced one (the reverse of the RP).
Australian vocabulary reflects, of course, the very different nature of
the landscape, climate, natural history, and way of life. Familiar English
words like brook, dale, field, and forest are unusual, whereas bush,
creek, paddock, and scrub are normal. There are of course a large number
of terms (often compounded from English elements) for the plants and
animals peculiar to the country, e.g. blue gum, stringybark (plants),
flathead, popeye mullet (fish). The borrowings from Aboriginal languages
hardly need extensive illustration; many are familiar in Britain, e.g.
billabong, boomerang, budgerigar, didgeridoo, wallaby. Many of them have
taken on transferred meanings and have lost their Aboriginal associations,
e.g. gibber (boulder, stone), mulga (an inhospitable region), warrigal
(wild, untamed person or animal). But above all it is in the colloquial
language that Australian English differs from British. Not only are there
terms relating to Australian life and society, e.g. jackaroo, rouse-about,
walkabout, but ordinary terms, e.g. to chiack (tease), crook (bad,
irritable, ill), dinkum, furphy (rumour), to smoodge (fawn, caress);
formations and compounds like those ending in -o (e.g. arvo (afternoon),
Commo (communist), smoko (teabreak)); to overland, ratbag (eccentric,
troublemaker), ropeable (angry); and expressions like come the raw prawn,
she'll be right, have a shingle short. While it is true that many
Australianisms are known in Britain, and form the basis of various kinds
of humorous entertainment, and while British English has borrowed some
Australian vocabulary (e.g. the verb to barrack or the noun walkabout),
there is yet a wide gap between the popular spoken forms of the two kinds
The gap is less wide in the case of New Zealand English, where British
influence has on the whole remained stronger. To a British ear, the New
Zealand accent is hardly distinguishable from the Australian. Its main
peculiarities are: (i) i as in kit is a very slack sound almost like a in
cadet; (ii) a as in trap and e as in dress are almost like British e in
pep and i in this; (iii) the vowels of square and near are very tense and
close, and may even be sounded alike; (iv) the vowels of smooth and nurse
are sounded forward in the mouth, and rather close. The chief differences
between New Zealand and Australian English are lexical. The words of
aboriginal origin are mostly unknown in New Zealand, while the New Zealand
words drawn from Maori are unknown in Australia. Many of the latter,
naturally, refer to natural history and landscape specific to the country,
e.g. bid-a-bid (kind of plant), cockabully, tarakihi (kinds of fish),
pohutukawa (kind of tree). There is a large everyday vocabulary, much of
it, but by no means all, colloquial or slang, used neither in Britain nor
in Australia, e.g. booay (remote rural district), greenstone (stone used
for ornaments), return to the mat (resume Maori way of life), shake
(earthquake), tar-sealed (surfaced with tar macadam), Taranaki gate (gate
made of wire strands attached to upright battens). While a fair amount of
colloquial vocabulary is shared by Australia and New Zealand (e.g. sheila,
Pommy, paddock (field), shout (to treat to drinks)), there are important
nuances. In both to bach is to live as a bachelor, but in New Zealand
only is there a noun bach, a small beach or holiday house. Similar
organizations are the RSA (Returned Servicemen's Association) in New
Zealand, but the RSL (Returned Servicemen's League) in Australia: the
initials of the one would be meaningless to a member of the other. Mopoke
or morepork is the name for a kind of owl in New Zealand, but for either a
nightjar, or a different kind of owl, in Australia.
C.4 4. South Africa
English is one of the two official languages of the Republic of South
Africa, the other being Afrikaans (derived from Dutch, but now an entirely
independent language). Afrikaans has had a fairly strong influence on the
English of the Republic: the South African accent is distinctly 'clipped';
r is often rolled, and the consonants p, t, and k have a sharper
articulation, usually lacking the aspiration (a faint h sound) found in
other varieties of English. I is sometimes very lax (like a in along),
e.g. in bit, lip, at other times very tense (like ee), e.g. in kiss, big;
the vowels of dress, trap, square, nurse are very tense and close, while
that of part is very far back almost like port. As in the other forms of
English of the Southern Hemisphere, the different landscape, flora and
fauna, and way of life are reflected in the South African vocabulary, e.g.
dorp (village), go-away bird, kopje, nartjie (tangerine), rand,
rhenosterbos (a kind of plant), roman, snoek (both fish), springbok, stoep
(veranda), veld. There are many loan-words from Afrikaans and African
languages, e.g. (besides most of those above) braai (barbecue), donga
(eroded watercourse), erf (building plot), gogga (insect), impala (kind of
antelope), indaba (meeting for discussion), lekker (nice), rondavel (hut).
There are also many general colloquial words and phrases, e.g. the farm
(the country), homeboy (African from one's own area), location (Black
township), robot (traffic light), tackies (plimsolls). Some of these
reflect the influence of Afrikaans idiom, e.g. to come there (arrive),
just now (in a little while), land (a field), to wait on (wait for). Only
a few words have entered the main stream of English, but they are
important ones, including apartheid, commandeer, commando, laager, trek,
and the slang scoff (to eat; food).
The spoken language of each of the main English-speaking communities, as
well as of the smaller communities scattered around the world, manifests
enormous differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and idiom. The relative
uniformity of the written, and especially the literary, language, stands
in tension with this. The outcome is a world language of unparalleled
richness and variety.