Fossil L-Words

An aspect of English spelling that fascinates me is the existence of what I call “fossil words”— words in which a letter is embedded like a fossil in the rock—there, but no longer pronounced. Among these fossil words are some “silent L” words that go back to the earliest forms of English. walk Old English …Read more

How to Pronounce the digraph AE in English

In English, the digraph ae functions chiefly as a suffix to denote the plural of Latin borrowings that retain a hint of their original “Latin-ness,” chiefly in the realm of scientific vocabulary. The rule for forming the plural of scientific terms ending in –a is to change the –a to –ae. Ordinarily, the pronunciation of …Read more

The Past Tense of “Lead” Is Spelled “Led”

The past tense of the verb to lead (pronounced /leed/) gives some English-speakers as much trouble as the past tenses of lay and lie. The prevalence of past tense led misspelled as lead on amateur blogs and social media like Reddit is not surprising. To see the misspelling in the writing of professional journalists and …Read more

Worshipped and Worshipping Revisited

A recent comment on a past post, “Worshiping and Kidnapping” made me doubt my sanity: You note that Merriam-Webster lists worshiped and worshiping as preferred spellings in the US, but my M-W app lists the double-consonant spelling first. Which should I recommend to an American writer whose readers are also American? In my post, “Worshiping …Read more

3 Types of Spelling Challenges

Often, the English language appears to have been invented by a malicious entity. But although Noah Webster—the American lexicographer who complicated things, rather than simplifying them, by advocating for changes in spelling rules to differentiate American English from its British English parent—can take some of the blame, the idiosyncrasies of both forms of English are …Read more

Disparate vs Desperate

两个字,有时是“dispara搞混了te” and “desperate”. They have quite different meanings, but they can sound very similar in some accents, and if you’re using autocorrect, you might find that you get the wrong one. What Does “Disparate” Mean? Disparate is an adjective that refers to things that are separated in some …Read more

Video: 10 Incorrect Pronunciations to Avoid

As you might know, some time ago we created a YouTube channel to publish some of our content under a video format. Here’s one thing we discovered: producing videos that talk about grammar and punctuation and that are entertaining at the same time is quite a challenge! That being said, we believe we are getting …Read more

How to Improve Your English Spelling

Addyson, a sixth grader who loves to write, asks, “How can I learn to spell better?” That’s certainly a worthy question, and over the years, we’ve given many suggestions for better spelling. I Before E, Except After C How Do I Become a Better Speller? Five Spelling Rules for “Silent Final E” The Six Spellings …Read more

Spelling Variations

This post discusses several factors responsible for variations in spelling, with examples. For much of the history of the English language, spelling was more an art than a science; because of lapses in literacy, there was no standard orthography. Even now, well into the twenty-first century, thanks to ignorance and laziness (and some intentional slangy …Read more

The Prevailing Style for Prefixes: No Hyphens

The hyphen’s role as a connector between prefixes and words has diminished significantly over the last few decades—and would be even more inconsequential if writers paid more careful attention to this long-standing trend. This post demonstrates how words with prefixes should be treated. You can still visit many houses and churches today that existed in …Read more

“They” As a Nonbinary Pronoun

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance visited me, and as my visitor exited the parked car, I saw that it was still occupied. My visitor, standing before me, made a reference to “they,” but only one person sat in the vehicle, and I was momentarily puzzled. I have written here before about my support for …Read more


Dozens of homonyms, words that sound like other words but are spelled differently, are sometimes confused for their near doppelgängers. This post lists and defines twenty-five frequently confused word pairs, in which the first word is usually used mistakenly in place of the second one. (Definitions for words are simplified and not comprehensive.) 1. add: …Read more