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American English versus British English

There are some variations in American and British English spellings which sometimes confuse readers who are not aware of this fact. The British (and those of the Commonwealth countries) spell words as they have always been spelling them. The Americans, on the other hand, tend to spell words as they sound… often by omitting some letters. The most common difference –

1. Nouns that end in –or in American English, end in –our in British English. Examples:

American English British English
color colour
neighbor neighbour
favor favour

2. Nouns that end in –er in American English, end in –re in British English. Examples:

American English British English
meter metre
center centre
theater theatre

3. Nouns that end in –g in American English, end in –gue in British English. Examples:

American English British English
catalog catalogue
dialog dialogue
analog analogue

4. Some other examples of nouns:

American English British English
program programme
draft draught
check cheque
jewelry jewellery
tire tyre

5. Verbs that end in –ze in American English, end in –se in British English. Examples:

American English British English
criticize criticise
memorize memorise
organize organise

6. –ll versus –l: In American English, verbs that end in –l preceded by a vowel, form their past by keeping the l singular when the suffixes –ed or –ing are added; but in British English the l is doubled. Examples:

American English British English
traveled/traveling travelled/travelling
quarreled/quarreling quarrelled/quarrelling

But – in American English, the l is doubled when the last syllable of a word that ends in –l is stressed; whereas, in British English it is not. Examples:

American English British English
fulfill fulfil
enrollment enrolment
skillful skilful

7. Some other differences when suffixes are added:

American English British English
aging ageing
kidnaping kidnapping
argument arguement
judgment judgement

These are just some of the differences in American and British English spellings. There are others, but it’s not possible to give them all here in one post. (We have already written about the differences in spellings when forming the past of some verbs :– those ending in –ed or –t.)

There is another thing that must be mentioned here. As a result of modern trends in the pop scene, scientific and technical advances, as well as the fast growth and reach of the media, American spellings are fast gaining ground. Their influence can also be seen in British English which is now slowly adopting American spellings as standard. This is why you will often see American spellings in British English.

Both the American and British spellings are correct and any may be used, but consistency is important.

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The Correct Word – Farther or Further

A common error is in the use of farther and further. We often see one word written for the other. This confusion between the two words is understandable since – one, they are both related to distance; and two, their spellings are similar. Care should be taken when using these words since there is a difference between the two.

First, the similarity – they are both the comparative form of “far”.

The difference?

Farther is the comparative form of “far” when referring to distance. For example:

His house is farther than John’s.

Which is farther – the school or the museum?

In both these examples, farther is referring to distance. That is, which place is at a greater distance.

Further is the comparative form of “far” when referring to advancement to a greater degree. For example:

He decided to go ahead with the plan without any further delay.

The boss wanted no further discussion on the topic.

Here further refers to a greater degree, or quantity.

So, the difference is this – whereas farther is used for physical distance, further is used for non-physical distance.

Do you know of any other difference (or similarity) between the two words?

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Difference between Colloquialism and Slang

People often use the word colloquialism for slang, and slang for colloquialism. The reason for this is that quite often people take them to mean the same thing. Colloquialism and slang do overlap to a certain extent, but they are actually two distinct forms of language.

How do colloquialism and slang overlap? In other words, how are they alike? The answer to this is – they are both informal, and they are both spoken forms of language. Now one may ask if they are both informal and both spoken forms of the language, then how can they be different? Well, the difference is this –

Colloquial language is the informal language used by people in every day speech. Its form is distinct to certain people and lends them their identity. Colloquialism may be words, phrases, or complete aphorisms. For example:

Word – gonna

Phrase – what’s up?

Aphorism – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer

Slang, on the other hand, is more informal than colloquialism. It is used only by certain groups – like teenagers or people of certain professions.  For example:

Stinks – for “is bad”

Buzz off – for “go away”

Salad dodger – an obese person

Other differences are:

* Colloquialism is considered standard language, but slang is not

* Colloquialism is geographically restricted, whereas slang may be used in any culture or class of society

* Colloquialism enriches a language, while slang waters it down.

Do you know of any other difference between colloquialism and slang?

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Rhetorical Devices

This post is a follow-up of my previous post on clichés. The reason? I received several requests from readers asking me to clarify, or explain, the rhetorical devices further. There is confusion in the minds of some as to what is what. It is not possible to write everything on the subject in one post, so I’ll just restrict myself to the queries that I received. The rest will follow in future posts.

First off:

What is a rhetorical device? Rhetoric is the study of effective speaking and writing. It is also described as the art of persuasion. Therefore, a rhetorical device is a means of, or a tool used to effectively speak or write. The main devices:

Figure of speech: This is a rhetorical device that uses words in distinctive ways to achieve special effects. Figures of speech are used to emphasize or bring freshness to expression. There are several different types of figures of speech – some being metaphor, simile, and personification.

Metaphor: A metaphor is a figure of speech, which compares two things without the use of ‘like’ or ‘as’. It is used to bring more force to the comparison. For example: a heart of stone, or food for thought.

Idiom: An idiom is a figure of speech – a phrase that means something other than its literal meaning. For example: get cold feet (meaning: become timid), or rat race (meaning= struggle for success).

Cliché: A cliché is a phrase that conveys a particular message, but has been so overused that it now sounds boring and irritating. For example: at the end of the day, or bottom line.

What are the similarities/differences between the above?

Difference between a metaphor and an idiom: A metaphor and an idiom are two different things. Whereas a metaphor compares a person or thing to something that possesses similar characteristics, an idiom is a phrase whose meaning as a unit differs from the meanings of words (of the phrase) taken separately. For example (taking the examples given above):

A heart of stone is comparing the heart with a stone – meaning the heart has no feeling, just like a stone doesn’t. (Meaning = the person has no feelings in his/her heart). Therefore, it is a metaphor.

Get cold feet – here there is no comparison. Instead, the whole phrase has an implied meaning, i.e. becoming timid. This implies meaning is very different from the literal meaning. Therefore, it is an idiom.

Difference between an idiom and a cliché: The idiom has been explained above. A cliché on the other hand, is a phrase that has become stale or boring due to its overuse. This phrase may be anything – a proverb, a metaphor, a simile (a comparison with the words like or as), an idiom, or even a single word. Hence, terms like metaphorical clichés (clichés that are metaphors).

So, what we see here is that an idiom can be a cliché, and a cliché can be an idiom… and yet, the two are different. Some ask – how can we tell whether a phrase is an idiom or a cliché? The deciding factor is its use – if the phrase is a common one and you hear it several times a day, then it’s a cliché, otherwise it’s an idiom.

There is so much that can be written on the topic, but I confined myself to the questions that were asked.

By the way, how would you tell the difference between an idiom and a cliché?

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Words Ending In –able and –ible

We previously did a post on words ending in ‘–ance’ and ‘–ence’. Another such pair of words is ‘–able’ and ‘–ible’.  Words ending in these suffixes are adjectives that refer to the ‘ability to’ or ‘necessity to’. For example ‘acceptable’ or ‘possible’. The problem is in the difficulty to remember which ending to use, ‘-able’ or ‘-ible’. What makes it even more confusing is that the two are pronounced identically.  So, when do use ‘-able’ and when do use ‘-ible’?

English being English, there is no rule; but generally, these hints work most of the time:

* Add ‘–able’ when the root word is a complete word. For example:

Accept + able = acceptable

Suit + able = suitable

Depend + able = dependable

* Add ‘–able’ when the root word ends in ‘e’, but first drop the ‘e’. For example:

Excuse – e + able = excusable

Value – e + able = valuable

Desire – e + able = desirable

* Add ‘–ible’ when the root is not a complete word. For example:

Horr + ible = horrible

Permiss + ible = permissible

Aud + ible = audible

* Add ‘–able’ when the word is new or modern. For example:

Email + able = emailable

Surf + able = surfable

Network + able = networkable

* As always is the case with the English language, there are exceptions. That is, none of the above apply. For example:

‘Contempt’ is a complete word, but ‘–ible’ is added, not ‘–able’ … contemptible

‘Response’ ends in ‘e’, but ‘–ible’ is added after dropping the ‘e’, not ‘–able’ … responsible

So, what should you do when you’re confused as to which suffix to use? Do one of the following:

1. Learn the spellings.

2. Look the word up in the dictionary.

3. Remember the hints above.

4. If there’s no dictionary around and you can’t remember either the spellings or the hints, just add ‘–able’. There is 5:1 chance you’ll get it right, because according to a research, there are only about 150 words that end in ‘–ible’. All the rest end in ‘–able’.

What do you do to remember which suffix to use?

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Origin of the Word ‘Freelance’

A conversation with a friend last night prompted me to write this post. While talking about writing and freelancing, she jokingly asked me if freelancing meant “lancing freely”. When I said yes, she thought I was joking, too, when in fact I wasn’t. Do you know the origin of the word “freelance”?

The word first appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe in 1819:

I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.

As you can see the word was originally two words – free and lance. Sir Walter Scott coined the words to mean mercenary soldiers; that is, free men who used their skills with lances for any person who hired them. Hence, the words free and lance. The people who hired the free lances were generally noblemen or feudal lords who needed extra hands to fight for land or property.

Ever since the term appeared in the novel, free lances began to be used for mercenary soldiers. Gradually the two words became one word – freelance – and was used only as a noun. It wasn’t till the early twentieth century that the word became a verb as well. How the word came to mean a person who sells his work or services is not clear, but it wasn’t seen in this sense till about 60-70 years ago.

Do you know how the word freelance changed its meaning? Please share your thoughts here with us.

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The Correct Word – Good or Well

The words good and well may be two of the most commonly used words in the English language, but they are also the most confused words. The confusion comes from the similarity in their meanings and the general mix-up between adjectives and adverbs. Let’s look into these:

We all know that adjectives and adverbs are both modifying words – adjectives modify nouns and adverbs modify verbs.

Good is an adjective, which means it modifies a noun. For example: This is a good book. (The adjective good is modifying the noun book).

Well is an adverb. Therefore, it modifies a verb. For example: He writes well. (The adverb well is modifying the verb writes).

This is the general rule and there is hardly any confusion in this. So, where does the confusion arise? Let’s take the similarity in the meanings first.

“He writes well” means “he is good at writing”. It’s the structure of the sentence that differentiates good from well.

Now the confusion between adjectives and adverbs: The reason for the confusion here is that well can be used both as an adverb and as a predicate adjective. In the previous example (He writes well) well is an adverb. Now take the question “How are you?” This can be answered as “I am well”, well here being a predicate adjective (modifying I and am being a linking verb), not an adverb. Hence, the confusion – between a predicate adjective and an adjective. These are taken to be the same, so very often you will hear “I am good” in reply to “How are you?” But this is incorrect, because good is an adjective and cannot be used as an adverb or as a predicate adjective.

Many people say that it is grammatically correct to say “I am good” in reply to “How are you?” Yes, “I am good” is grammatically correct, but not in reply to “How are you?” When you reply to the question, you are referring to your health, how you are feeling; you cannot feel good, you feel well. The time when “I am good” is grammatically correct is when the question is a general one and not specifically relating to your health.  In other words, “I am good” is correct when you mean to say that you are decent, virtuous, or skilful.

Confused? Many people do get confused, that’s why the errors in the use of the words. But if you understand the meanings and uses of these two words, you can never go wrong.


Any other thoughts on the use of good and well?


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