Preventative vs. Preventive

When you wish to refer to something that serves to prevent, which is the correct adjectival or noun form, preventative, or preventive? The latter word is more commonly cited, appearing by a ratio of three to one, but the longer variant is also widely employed, and with increasing frequency. Might, however, does not necessarily make … Read more

36 Adjectives Describing Light

A bright constellation of adjectives referring to various qualities of light, or other phenomena related to light, is brought to light in the list below. Quite a few of them, from lucent to lustrous (and even illuminating), stem from the Latin word lucere, meaning “to shine,” while many others begin with the consonant gl-, betraying … Read more

Bonds vs. Bounds

What’s the difference between a bond and a bound, and the relationships of the verb and adjective forms? Both words have to do with constraints, but the multiple meanings aren’t necessarily related. A bond is something that binds — literally, as with chains, or figuratively, as an agreement or a financial obligation — and the … Read more

10 Tacky Terms

The English language teems with terminology for referring to ostentation or bad taste, or both. Here are ten words that help readers imagine imagery that they perhaps would rather not think about: 1. Flashy The connotations of this adjectival form of flash are of fleeting, superficial attractiveness and showy, tasteless fashion and/or fashion accessories. 2. … Read more

Write How You Write, Not How You Speak

Recently, I wrote about word patronage, the often-unnecessary inclusion of self-referential expressions as “as you will” and “so to speak” in one’s writing. This post expands on that one to recommend that you inspect your writing for anything that smacks of spoken English. If you’ve ever seen a transcript of an extended discourse — a … Read more

10 Metals and Minerals for Metaphors

Metals and minerals sometimes inspire associations with human characteristics or with circumstances, as in the case of the examples below: 1. Adamant Few people realize that this word, which in adjectival form means “insistent” or “unyielding,” has a lustrous origin: It comes from a Greek noun by way of Latin and originally referred to a … Read more

How to Form Plurals of Compound Nouns

Many compound nouns present a challenge when it comes to determining how to convert them from singular to plural form. The solution usually seems simple enough — slap on an s — but the plural appendage doesn’t automatically go at the very end. Here’s the rule about how to figure out whether to write that, … Read more

20 Words for That Certain Something

Some people have it, and some people don’t. But what, exactly, is it? Here’s a list of words describing a special quality that sets certain people apart from others, and their meanings: 1. Brio: vivaciousness (Italian, “fire, life,” perhaps from the word for vigor from a form of French) 2. Charisma: charm or personal magnetism … Read more

It’s Acceptable to Use (Some) Contractions

Do you believe it’s acceptable to use contractions in formal writing, or is the elision of certain letters and their replacement by apostrophes something that shouldn’t appear in a respectable publication? What’re your thoughts? Some contractions are considered more acceptable than others. The first two I included in the previous paragraph, and others, are often … Read more

Discrepancy vs. Disparity

What’s the difference between discrepancy and disparity and other similar words beginning with the prefix dis-? The meanings are often the same or closely related, but some distinctions apply: Discrepancy, the noun form of the rarely used adjective discrepant, stems from the Latin term discrepare, which means “to sound discordantly.” A discrepancy is a variance … Read more

A Quiz About Hyphenating Phrasal Adjectives

One of the most frequent mechanical errors in writing is the omission or misuse of hyphens when two or more words are used to modify a following noun. In the sentences below, remedy the absence or abuse of hyphens in the phrasal adjective and compare your revision to mine: 1. “He’s one of the world’s … Read more

11 Forms of Word Patronage to Forgo

Various specimens of a curious class of self-referential expressions often find their way into spoken and written discourse. Such locutions in speech are nigh inevitable, because spontaneous communication frequently necessitates verbal placeholders, and the speaker’s self-consciousness or self-regard demands self-induced back-pedaling or backslapping. However, in both oration and composition — especially in the latter, because … Read more