Gray vs. Grey

A reader asks, Would you please explain the variation in spelling of the word gray vs. grey? Short answer: gray is standard American spelling and grey is British spelling for the same color. The spellings have bounced back and forth. The Old English stem was spelled grǣg. According to the OED, ”The variation between spellings … Read more

Collective Nouns: Singular or Plural?

British and American style guides tend to agree that collective nouns like audience, committee, and data can be construed as either singular or plural, according to whether the word is perceived as a unit or as individual items. As it says in The Chicago Manual of Style, “a singular verb emphasizes the group; a plural … Read more

Proportionate vs. Proportional

Both of these adjectives are based on the noun proportion. The noun proportion can mean “a part, portion, amount, or percentage” of something. For example, “He miscalculated the proportion of water to alcohol in the solution.” Proportion can also refer to a balance between two things. For example, “The king rewarded the knight in proportion … Read more

Primer, Manual and Handbook

In American usage, the word primer has two pronunciations, according to whether it refers to a beginning reading book [PRIM-ur] or to an undercoat of paint [PRY-mur]. In British usage, it’s pronounced the same way for both [PRY-mur]. This post is about the word primer [PRIM-ur] as it applies to a source of elementary instruction. … Read more

Pendant vs. Pendent

A reader wants to know when to write pendant and when to write pendent. The answer is not as straightforward as I expected it to be. British usage and American usage are very clear when it comes to the spelling of the words dependant and dependent. According to Penguin Writer’s Manual, In British English, dependent … Read more

Six Idioms with Dozen

The English word dozen comes from French douzaine, which in turn comes from Latin duodecim: “two plus ten.” It occurs in several English idioms. 1. cheaper by the dozen: costing less when bought in quantity. The expression appears on the Google Ngram Viewer in the 19th century, but its usage rises significantly beginning in 1942. … Read more

Addendum on Used To vs. Use To

It sometimes happens that I write a post that I think is beautifully focused on one point of usage, and then I receive a slew of emails faulting me for misrepresenting the topic. That’s what happened with a post on the modal use of used and use to express habitual action in the past. When … Read more

Between You and I vs. Between You and Me

An ad for a new movie about the Hebrew exodus from Egypt shows Christian Bale as Moses–a character who has received a privileged and educated upbringing–shouting the words, “Something’s coming that is far beyond you and I!” I noticed because beyond is a preposition and should be followed by the object form me, not the … Read more

Just Deserts vs. Just Desserts

The use of the expression “just deserts” in a recent DWT exercise brought some reader objections. Here are two: “She got her just deserts” — really? “Desert” like an arid place? Isn’t it “desserts”? You are surely incorrect. The correct form of the expression is “just desserts.” Many speakers think that people who get what they … Read more

Mistrust vs. Distrust

A reader wants to know if there is a difference between the words mistrust and distrust. The short answer is, “No.” As verbs, both distrust and mistrust mean, “to be without confidence.” As nouns, both distrust and mistrust mean, “lack of trust or confidence.” The Google Ngram Viewer graph shows distrust as the more common … Read more

How to Spell Pendulum

A Facebook comment alerted me to a misspelling of the word pendulum that I’d never seen before. Once I began looking, I found thousands of examples. I wasn’t too surprised to find the word misspelled in social media, but it did seem strange to see pendulum spelled “pentulum” on sites selling clocks. Here are a … Read more


The word gospel entered Old English as a translation of a Latin phrase meaning “good tidings” or “good news”: god (good) + spell (speech, message). “The Gospel” (capitalized) is the “good news” that Jesus Christ redeemed mankind from sin and death. “A gospel” is one of the four books in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, … Read more