Math or Maths?

Is “math” or “maths” the correct word to use as the shortened or colloquial form of the word mathematics? The answer is that it depends on where you are. To North American speakers of English, the word to use is “math”, as in “I majored in math”, and “maths” would sound wrong. Speakers of British … Read more

Nutritional vs Nutritious: What’s the Difference?

Is there any difference between the words “nutritional” and “nutritious”? They’re both adjectives that refer to the nutrients in a food. Nutrients covers both “macronutrients” (normally defined as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and “micronutrients” (vitamins and minerals). You’ll quite often see “nutritional” and “nutritious” being used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Nutritional is an … Read more

Passed vs Past

Sandi from Inspiration for Writers wrote to ask: “Can you do a segment on Past vs. Passed–if you haven’t already? Too many get these words mixed up.” Very happy to oblige, Sandi! Past – relates to location The word past locates something in time, and sometimes in space. It can be used as an adjective, … Read more

Affect vs. Effect

Among the pairs of words writers often confuse, affect and effect might be the most perplexing, perhaps because their meanings are so similar. Affect, derived from affectus, from the Latin word afficere, “to do something to, act on,” is easily conflated with effect, borrowed from Anglo-French, ultimately stemming from the Latin word effectus, from efficere, … Read more

Avert vs. Avoid

What’s the difference between avert and avoid? They share a primary meaning (with a subtle but significant distinction) but despite their structural similarity are etymologically unrelated. This post discusses their senses and origins and those of similar-looking synonyms. Avert derives from the Latin verb vertere, which means “turn.” To avert is literally to turn away; … Read more

Emigrants vs. Immigrants vs. Migrants

What’s the difference between an emigrant and an immigrant, and where do migrants fit in? The answer, for both questions, is that it’s a matter of direction. Emigrant, immigrant, and migrant all stem from the Latin verb migrare, which means “to move from one direction to another.” The distinction between the nearly identical-sounding first two … Read more

Captain vs. Master

What’s the difference between a ship’s captain and a ship’s master? In contemporary usage, not much, but historically, the titles represented quite distinct roles. Captain is more common in modern usage, but master is more historically accurate. Captain derives ultimately from the Latin term caput, meaning “head” and related to other words beginning with cap- … Read more

Faze vs. Phase

The verb faze, “to disturb,” is often misspelled as phase. Here are some recent examples of the error, with corrections: INCORRECT: She did not appear phased by recent reports that skinny jeans had cut off one woman’s circulation. —New York Times. CORRECT : She did not appear fazed by recent reports that skinny jeans had … Read more

Critique vs. Criticism

Although dictionaries list critique and criticism as synonyms, the words are not exact equivalents. Perhaps because it’s two letters shorter, headline writers often use critique when criticism would be the more appropriate choice. Take the following example: News Anchor Fiercely and Succinctly Claps [sic] Back at a Viewer’s Critique of Her Appearance Here is the … Read more

Fit and Fitted

A Lenscrafter television advertisement showing a man being fitted for glasses caught my attention with its unidiomatic use of the verb fit. At the beginning of the ad, the man is in a traditional examining room, looking anxiously through multiple lenses. At the end of the ad, he is seated comfortably in front of a … Read more

5 Words Often Mistakenly Used in Place of Others

When writers, amateurs and professionals alike, employ words or phrases they have heard spoken but not seen written, they often mistakenly use a homophone or near homophone of the intended word. Each of the sentences below includes a word that is often used erroneously. A discussion and revision accompanies each example. 1. Given punk rock’s … Read more

Simultaneous and Simultaneously

The following sentence on a professional writing site caught my attention: Simultaneous people (e.g. the editor and writer) can work on the same document at the same time, ensuring changes aren’t lost in old, misplaced drafts. I have seen nonprofessional writers use the phrase “simultaneous people” in the context of computer use, as in this … Read more