Appendix III: Word Wise


U, V, W, X


ultimatum, ultimatums (rather than ultimata).

(See English- and Latin-ending plurals.)


Union flag, Union Jack.

The flag is properly called the Union Jack only when it is flown from the jackstaff of a ship.


unmistakable, not unmistakeable.

(See separate entries on knowledgeable, likeable, movable, rateable, sizeable and unshakeable.)


unshakeable – (recommended)
unshakable – (variant)

The Times1 and The Oxford Compendium2 prefer unshakeable.

(See separate entries on knowledgeable, likeable, movable, rateable, sizeable and unmistakable.)


up to date, up-to-date.

The non-hyphenated form is predicative (coming after the noun): Is this information up to date? The hyphenated form is attributive (coming before
the noun): This is up-to-date information.

(See linking compound adjectives.)


upcoming – (See forthcoming)


upwards, downwards – (UK)
upward, downward – (US)

(See -ward(s) suffixes.)


usable – (correct)
useable – (disputed)


use to, used to.

In the sense of being ‘accustomed to’ or ‘acquainted with’, the correct phrase is used to: Working here can be quite hectic, but you’ll soon get used
to it
. In the sense of being true in the past but no longer, used to is standard and use to colloquial: When we lived on the farm, we used to (use to)
grow all our own vegetables


usher – (common gender)
usherette – (obsolete)


venal – open to bribery and corruption: a venal politician.
venial – forgivable, excusable, pardonable, minor: a venial sin.


veranda – (current)
verandah – (obsolescent)



In the event of any failure or malfunctioning of any component of the apparatus which renders the appliance inoperative and necessitates repair
before the appliance will work normally, the Board will, at the request of the consumer within a reasonable period and during normal working hours
and subject to the conditions and exceptions set out in paragraphs two and three below, repair or replace such components free of charge
. (South
Wales Electricity Board)3

(See clichés, pleonasms and verbosity.)


vertigo, acrophobia.

The correct term for an abnormal fear of heights is acrophobia. Vertigo ‘dizziness’ can be experienced on the ground.


video, videos – (n.) the films and cameras.
video, videoed, videoes – (v.) the filming.


waggon – (obsolescent)
wagon – (current)


waiter, waitress.

These are probably the only remaining gender-specific job titles in common use. Unlike authoress, manageress and, more recently, actress,
waitress has yet to be abandoned in favour a common-gender alternative. 
Restaurants, of course, must advertise for waiting staff, and Americans 
now often use the term server, but why waiter has not fulfilled the same gender-free role as its counterparts author, manager and actor is a mystery.


wander I wandered lonely as a cloud.
wonderI wonder who’s kissing her now.


-ward(s) suffixes.

As adverbs, words such as forwards, northwards, upwards and onwards, along with the preposition towards, are spelt thus in British English.The
-endings are omitted in American English. Thus a British car travels forwards, backwards, upwardsdownwardssouthwards and towards, while 
an American car travels forward, backward, upward, downward, southward and toward. The -s ending of forwards, however, is always dropped in
cases where physical motion is less explicit: to put forward, bring forward, look forward. Nor do these words take -s endings as adjectives: a
forward child
, a backward step, a northward journey and so forth.



Purists insist that warn is a transitive verb, that is, a verb that must take a direct object. Examples of transitive verbs are admire, bringcommit,
make and raise. We cannot simply say I admire or I bring; we have to admire or bring something (the direct object). Intransitive verbs, on the other
hand, need not take direct objects: laugh, run, think. It follows that if warn is a transitive verb, it cannot legitimately be used without specifying the
object of the warning, such that sentences of the kind, The police warned that car theft is increasing, are incorrect. 
We need to say, the purists
insist, The police warned motorists that car theft is increasing
If we omit the direct object, we have to recast the sentence: The police gave warning
that car theft is increasing
. BBC Radio4 
now permits the ‘error’ but The Times5 does not.


warrantee – the person.
warranty – the promise.

The recommended spelling for the person issuing the warranty is warrantor with warranter as a variant.


weather – rain with sunny spells.
whether – if.

(See also if, whether.)



We are unlikely to encounter whence these days except in a humorous context or an historical novel, but it is worth remembering that the word 
means ‘from where’. Thus we should say whence it came, not from whence it came.


whereabouts is, whereabouts are.

Whereabouts may be construed in either the singular or the plural, but both The Guardian6 and The Times7 insist on the singular: His whereabouts
is unknown


whether, whether or not.

Or not should be used only when necessary: It has to be done whether or not we like it; He enjoys gambling whether or not he wins. But: I can’t
remember whether I gave him the message
; It is doubtful at this stage whether both sides will agree to arbitration.

(See also if, whether.)


while – (current)
whilst – (obsolete)

So, too, with amid and amidst, among and amongst.


whiskey – Irish whiskey.
whisky – Scotch whisky.


who, whom.

Whom can I turn to when nobody needs me?

Grammatical corrections can be take to silly extremes.

(See who and whom in Pronouns.)


wilful, wilfulness – (UK)
willful, willfulness – (US)

But always wilfully.


will, shall.

To will long ago lost its meaning of ‘to intend’ or ‘to wish’ and is now used almost exclusively as an auxiliary (or helping) verb: will be, will go, will
. Its older meaning is now more usually expressed as a noun: Do you really have the will to give up smoking? As auxiliaries, shall is
traditionally used with first-person subjects (I shall; we shall) and will with second- and third-person subjects (you will; she will; it will; they will).
Curiously, the rule was reversed for imperatives (They shall not pass!I will not tolerate such behaviour!). This practice is still recommended in
formal English but, in most circumstances, will is now used informally, irrespective of person: I will, we will, you will, she will, it will, they will. The
same is true of most interrogatives: Shall I be famous? (formal), Will I be famous? (informal). The exceptions are questions implying ought to,
where shall is always used with the first person: Shall I go, or will you? Would and should have fared much the same. I should very much like
another cup of tea 
is unlikely to be encountered anywhere now except in films and novels of the pre-1960s. We now tend to say and write, I would
, I would prefer…I would rather…, I would soonerShould is also fading as an alternative (and an addition) to if: If it rains, we can go to the
cinema instead
, rather than, Should it rain… or If it should rain


wits’ end, not wit’s end.


woollen – (UK)
woolen  (US)


worth while, worthwhile.

The two-word form is predicative (coming after the noun): The experience was worth while. The one-word form is attributive (coming before the noun):
It was a worthwhile experience.

(See linking compound adjectives.)


wreaked vengeance, not wrought vengeance.


wrong direction.

The fallacy of mistaking cause for effect. For example, Coalition forces should remain in the country until the insurgency is quelled, implies that the
insurgency is the cause of the occupation, when it is possible that the occupation is the cause of the insurgency.

(See wrong direction in Fallacies.)


-xion endings.

Only two nouns take compulsory -xion endings: complexion (not complection) and crucifixion (not crucifiction). One, reflection, is now spelt thus,
while the other three have optional spellings:
 connexion or connection, genuflexion or genuflection and inflexion or inflection.8



The Times Style Guide. No longer available on line. Multiple access 200203.
2 The Oxford Compendium Concise Dictionary, 9th Edition, OUP, 1995.
3 Plain English CampaignAccessed 23.12.11.
BBC Radio Newsroom, Alphabetical List. Accessed 20.05.03.
5 The Times Style Guide.
The Guardian Style Guide. Multiple access, 200203.
The Times Style Guide.
8 R. W. Burchfield (ed.), The New Fowlers Modern English Usage, Third Revised Edition, OUP, 1998.



























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