Appendix III: Word Wise




a, an.

Words beginning with an aspirated h take a when the first syllable has greater stress than the second: a habit, a harmony, a heroa history, a
When the second syllable has greater stress than the first, an is traditionally preferred: an habitual nail biteran harmonic progression, an 
heroic act, an historic event, an horrific accident. The modern tendency, however, is to use a in all circumstances.

(See also a hotel, an hotel.)


abbreviations and acronyms.

Abbreviations take upper case with no separating points: TV, TUC, CBI, HIV. Acronyms are also traditionally written in upper case but are
increasingly appearing in lower case with upper-case initials, especially in newspapers: Acas, Aids, Nato, Opec, Unesco. The Guardian has
also dispensed with points and spaces between initials (JRR Tolkein) and points with the Latin abbreviations eg, ie and etc

(See also capitals.)


academic subjects.

These take lower case (history, physics, politics, philosophy, economics) unless languages or course titles and awards (BA History). 

(See capitals.)


accessary – (obsolete)
accessory – (current)

To describe people complicit in a criminal offence, the word was once spelt accessary but has now been superseded by accessory.1


acknowledgement – (UK)
acknowledgment – (US and UK)

Optional spelling, as with judgement and judgment.


actor – (common gender)
actress – (obsolescent)

Most -ess endings have been redundant for some time, but it is only recently that actress has succumbed to actor, a change pioneered by The 
Guardian.2 Waitress is strangely lingering and there are unlikely to be common-gender options to royal and noble titles: prince, princess; duke



AD appears before figured dates (AD 400) and after ordinal centuries (the fifth century AD). The abbreviation is usually dropped after AD 1000BC
always appears after the date (400 BC, the fifth century BC). Both abbreviations sometimes appear in a smaller font than the main text, often with
no intervening space (AD400).

(See also BCE.)


adapter, adaptor.

Adaptor is the usual spelling, but adapter may be preferred for a person rather than a device.


adherence, adhesion.

Both words can mean ‘obedience to rules or principles’, with adherence the more common. Adhesion alone means ‘sticking capacity’.


ad hoc.

Best confined to its Latin meaning, ‘to this’ or ‘for this particular purpose’: an ad hoc committee. The expression is not recommended for ‘dealing
with issues as they arise’: He responded to problems in an ad hoc way. Options: desultory, piecemealunmethodicalunsystematic. The practice
of italicising the expression is in decline.


administer – (current)
administrate – (obsolescent)

Justice and medicine are administered. Businesses might alternatively be administrated, but the word is in decline. The agent noun is 


admission – (current)
admittance – (obsolete)

But admittance survives proscriptively: No admittance!


adult – (obsolescent)
pornographic – (current)

The Times now insists on ‘pornographic magazine’.3


advice – (n.) Take my advice.
advise – (v.) I advise you to think again.


adviser – (UK & US, correct)
advisor – (US, disputed)


aerie – (US) eyrie.
eerie – frightening.
Erie – the North American lake.
eyrie – (UK) the nest of a bird of prey (especially an eagle).


aeroplane – (UK)
aircraft – (UK & US)
airplane – (US)


aesthetic – (UK)
esthetic – (US)


affect, effect.

Affect means to ‘act upon’, ‘influence’ or ‘produce an effect on’: The new pension rules won’t affect him because he is over fiftyEffect means to
‘cause’, ‘bring about’, ‘produce’ or ‘accomplish’: He hoped the new spectacles would effect an improvement in his vision. Another guide to correct
usage is that, in everyday language, only effect can be used as a noun: The new pension rules won’t have an effect on him because he is over


affront – (n.) a deliberate insult; (v.) deliberately insult or offend.
effrontery – rudeness, insolence, audacity.



After means ‘later than’, not ‘simultaneous with’: Wales secured the 2012 Six Nations' Grand Slam by (not after) beating France 16-9 at the
Millennium Stadium


ageing – (UK)
aging – (US)



People’s ages are written when they appear in main clauses or start sentences (Thirty-five-year-old Mr Jones said that he was lucky to be alive)
and figured when they appear parenthetically (Mr Jones, 35, said that he was lucky to be alive). The exception is with children aged ten and under
when the age is always written (Laura, six, said she was happy that Tigger had returned home safely). 

(See numbers.)


aggravate, irritate, provoke.

In the sense of causing annoyance to people or animals, irritate and provoke are preferable to aggravate, and provoke is preferred when the
annoyance is likely to produce a reaction. Aggravate alone applies to wounds and situations.


a hotel, an hotel.

An is the correct article when hotel is pronounced in the French manner with a non-aspirated h. When the h is pronounced, as it usually is today,
either a or an may be used. 

(See also a, an.)


air hostess – (obsolete)
flight attendant – (current)


A level, A-level.

The Times uses A level as the noun (She has four A levels) and A-level as the adjective (This year’s A-level result were better than last year’s).4
he Guardian uses the hyphenated form in both capacities.5

all right – (correct)
alright – (non-standard)

Most authorities regard alright as non-standard, although Webster’s declares it to be ‘in reputable use’ in American English.6 The word has been 
defended on the grounds that is has a different meaning from the two-word form: the answers were all right ('correct') and the answers were alright
('acceptable'). Yet while similar words have been legitimated for presumably the same reason (almighty, alreadyaltogether, always), authorities
are curiously reluctant to grant the same concession to alright. Until things change, therefore, the use of the word in formal British English is not


all together, altogether.

All together – everyone together, simultaneously, in unison, at one: She was so happy to see the family all together againThe problems came all
. Altogether – absolutely, entirely, completely, totally, on the whole, in all respects, quite: I don’t altogether agree with his opinions; he is
altogether too smug for my liking


alternative, option.

Opinions differ on whether these words can be used interchangeably. The view that they cannot (held by both The Guardian7 and The Times)8
rests on the fact that alternation is possible between two things only. A motorist, for example, has an alternative at a T-junction, but options at a
crossroads. Expressions of the kind, We must consider the alternatives, are thus strictly incorrect. On the other hand, Burchfield points out that
alternative has been reputably used to mean a choice between more than two things since the middle of the nineteenth century.9


although, though.

As synonyms of 'but' and 'notwithstanding that', although is more formal than though.


a.m., p.m. / am, pm – (UK)
AM, PM – (US) (Occasionally in a smaller font.)


ambiance – (obsolete)
ambience – (current)


ambulance men – (obsolete)
ambulance crew, paramedics – (current)


amend, emend.

Amend (n. amendment) – change, usually with a view to improving: The tutor amended the student’s essay (made improvements in content or style).
Emend (n. emendation) – correct: The tutor emended the student’s essay (corrected explicit errors).


American, US.

The choice of adjective is often optional, but US is more common in political and military contexts (US Congress, US Navy, US involvement) and
American in cultural contexts (American people, American football, American dream). But expressed as a noun, United States is generally written
thus, rather than abbreviated: We're going to spend a month touring the United States.


amid – (current)
amidst – (obsolete)

So, too, with among and amongst, and while and whilst.


amok – (recommended)
– (variant)


amoeba – (UK)
ameba – (US)

Amoebas, rather than amoebae, is now the more common plural. 

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


among, amongst, between.

Amongst is an obsolete form of among. The usual confusion involves among and between. The rule that between is used in cases of two only is
unsustainable. It is the only legitimate word when there are only two phenomena (John and Karen let no one come  between them), but its use is
not forbidden when there are more than two. In such cases, the use of between or among is often governed less by number than by relationship.
Burchfield quotes the OED: It [between] is still the only word available to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and
among expressing a relation to them collectively and vaguely10 Thus: He divided his time at college between studying, socialising
and playing rugby
, but Playing rugby was among his activities at college.


anaemia, anaemic – (UK)
anemia, anemic – (US)


anaesthetic – (UK)
anesthetic – (US)


analogue – (UK)
analog – (US)

The American spelling is universally used in computer language.


analyse – (UK)
analyze – (US)

(But see synthesise, synthesize.)


annex – (UK and US) (v.) join to; (US) (n.) annexe.
annexe – (UK) (n.) something joined to something else.

Thus kitchen annexe (UK) and kitchen annex (US).


antennae – on insects
antennas – on roofs and television sets.

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


anticipate, predict.

While often used synonymously, these words actually have different meanings. To predict is to speculate about the future; to anticipate is to do
something about it. A chess player predicts his opponent’s move when he guesses what that move is going to be; he anticipates it by making a
thwarting move first. A hiker predicts wet weather by looking at the gathering storm clouds; she anticipates it by packing an oil skin. When Mrs
Williams met her daughter’s boyfriend for the first time, she made a prediction that they would marry, and immediately began preparing a list of
guests in anticipation of the wedding


anti- compounds.

Some are written as one word (anticlimax, anticlockwise, antidepressant, antisocial) while others are hyphenated (anti-abortionanti-bacterial, anti-
, anti-hero, anti-nuclear). Unfortunately, there is no rule of use.


any one – one of a number: Any one of them will do.
anyone – anybody: Is there anyone there?; everybody: Anyone can do it.


appal – (UK)
appall – (US)

But always appalled, appalling.


appendices – in books.
appendixes – in bodies.


appraise – estimate, evaluate, criticise, judge.
apprise – inform, acquaint, alert, advise.


apprehend, comprehend.

These words are often interchangeable but apprehend is usually reserved for ideas. Thus we apprehend a principle or concept and comprehend 
language or someone’s behaviour. Adjectives: apprehensible, comprehensible.


a priori, a posteriori.

In logic, a priori reasoning is reasoning deductively from the general to the particular, while to know something a priori is to know it without the need 
of observation: 2+2=4. Correlatively, a posteriori reasoning is reasoning inductively from the particular to the general, while to know something a
posteriori is to know it empirically (from experience, observation or the testimony of others): Madeline’s car is a soft-top. The practice of italicising
the expressions is in decline.


aquarium, aquaria (or aquariums).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


arbiter, arbitrator.

An arbiter is someone whose opinions or judgements are authoritative: Critics should not always be considered the arbiters of good literature.
An arbitrator is someone officially appointed to settle a dispute: The union and employers are unlikely to settle the dispute without an arbitrator.


archaeology – (UK)
archeology – (US)


around, round.

To indicate ‘on every side’, these words are largely interchangeable, with an American preference for around and a British preference for round.
Thus we may sit around or round a table, look around or round a house. But to indicate circular motion, 
round is more correct: The wheels go


artefact – (UK)
artifact – (US)


artist – one who is artistically creative (especially a painter); an entertainer.
artiste – (obsolete) an entertainer.

Both Rembrandt and Chubby Brown are now artists.



The error of attraction occurs when verbs and pronouns are ‘attracted’ to the wrong noun: The cost of groceries vary widely from one supermarket
to another
(vary should be varies); The book is one of those rare novels that owes its popularity almost entirely to word-of-mouth recommendation
(owes its should be owe their).

(See subject-verb agreement.)


author – (common gender)
authoress – (obsolete)


axe – (UK)
ax – (US)

But always axed, axing. (Axeing is a disputed alternative in British English.)


1 R. W. Burchfield (ed.), The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Third Revised Edition, OUP, Oxford, 1998.
2 The Guardian Style Guide. Multiple access, 2003
3 The Times Style Guide. No longer available on line. Multiple access, 200203.
4 Ibid.
5 The Guardian Style Guide.
6 Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Könemann, 1993
7 The Guardian Style Guide.
8 The Times Style Guide.
9 Burchfield, op. cit.
10 Ibid.




























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