Nothing wrong with Hopefully as Modal Adjunct

My 2009 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook has this to say about hopefully: It means in a hopeful manner. Do not use it to mean it is hoped, let us hope or we hope. The 2012 edition of the AP Stylebook reverses that dictum. Professional writers who follow that guide may now use the … Read more

Compel, Impel, and Propel

A reader asks, Would you explain the differences among compel, impel, and propel. Here is an instance that I read:“…I find myself returning again and again to the question of what compels us — what propels us — to record our impressions of the present moment in all their fragile subjectivity.” The pel in compel, … Read more

Alternate vs. Alternative

One of my favorite DWT commenters took me to task for my use of alternate instead of alternative in this passage: in modern English writing, kn is an alternate spelling for the sound /n/, and … igh is an alternate spelling of the long i sound… I value his comments, so I have examined his … Read more

Credible Words

Latin credere means “to trust” Used with the dative, it means “to believe, to give credence to a person or thing.” Several English words come from this word. Credo with a capital refers to the Christian Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. Lowercase credo means any statement of the aims or principles which guide a … Read more

How Many Words in English?

In order to estimate the number of words in a language, one must first determine what a word is. For example, is bug a word? Or is it several words? There’s bug “insect,” bug as in, “I drive a Bug,” bug as in “Don’t bug me,” bug as in “eyes that bug out,” and bug … Read more

Indirect Quotations

Colorful, striking direct quotations enliven a news story, but not everything an interview subject says is worth quoting in its entirety. An hour of note-taking might result in a lot of information, but little in the way of pithy remarks. It’s the writer’s job to distinguish between what’s worth quoting verbatim, and what would be … Read more

Escape Velocity

Reader Vinayak Naik wants to know how the term “escape velocity” has come to be used in connection with social justice. The expression derives from a scientific term defined as “a speed sufficient to overcome the gravitational force of a planet.” The Earth, with a diameter of 7,918 miles, has an escape velocity of 25,000 … Read more

The Parts of a Word

A reader asks about the terms prefix, root, and suffix, and wonders how to distinguish them in a word. At the most basic level, words are made up of units of meaning called morphemes. A morpheme may be a recognizable word like tree, run, or button that cannot be broken down into smaller meaningful parts. … Read more


I thought I knew the meaning of the word agnostic until I read this in an article about the Common Core State Standards: Some teachers were angered, not by his pedagogical vision per se but by the fact that the author of the standards seemed to be telling them how to teach, even when the … Read more

Verbs with Thou and Thee

The pronouns thou and thee were replaced by you in standard English a very long time ago, but the old forms still hold interest for modern speakers. A DWT reader wrote to me recently about a pastor who encourages his parishioners to use the “thou” forms in prayer. Many Bible readers still prefer the King … Read more

The Present Participle and Continuous Tenses

The present participle, together with a the verb to be, is used to create continuous tenses. Although a form of the verb, the present participle cannot be used as the main verb of a sentence. Trying to use it that way results in a sentence fragment: Playing in the lake. To function as a verb, … Read more

Writing and Pronunciation

I sometimes hesitate to address the subject of pronunciation because I usually get complaints. For example, I received this gentle admonition when I wrote about the novel pronunciation of the word news among radio announcers: Methinks a site about writing tips should steer clear of pronunciation. I have to disagree. Pronunciation has nothing to do … Read more