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-able/-ible Adjectives ending in -able or -ible can be
difficult to spell because both endings
sound identical. You’ll always need to be
on guard with these words and check
each word individually when you are in
doubt, but here are some useful
guidelines:
(i) Generally use -able when the
companion word ends in -ation:
abominable, abomination
irritable, irritation
(ii) Generally use -ible when the
companion word ends in -ion:
comprehensible, comprehension
digestible, digestion
(iii) Use -able after hard c and hard g:
practicable (c sounds like k)
navigable (hard g)
(iv) Use -ible after soft c and soft g:
forcible (c sounds like s)
legible (g sounds like j)
abridgement/
abridgment
Both spellings are correct. Use either but be
consistent within one piece of writing.
accept or except? We ACCEPT your apology.
Everybody was there EXCEPT Stephen.
accessary
or accessory?
If you want to preserve the traditional
distinction in meaning between these two
words, use ACCESSARY to refer to
someone associated with a crime and
ACCESSORY to refer to something that is
added (a fashion accessory or car
accessories). However, the distinction has
now become blurred and it is perfectly
acceptable to use one spelling to cover
both meanings. Of the two, accessory is
the more widely used, but both are
correct.
acknowledgement/
acknowledgment
Both spellings are correct but be
consistent within one piece of writing.
adapter or adaptor? Traditional usage would distinguish
between these two words and reserve
-er for the person (an adapter of novels,
for instance) and -or for the piece of
electrical equipment. However, the
distinction has become very blurred and
the two spellings are considered by many
authorities to be interchangeable. Use
either for both meanings but be consistent
within a single piece of writing.
adrenalin/adrenaline Both spellings are correct.
adverse or averse? These two words have different meanings.
The ferries were cancelled owing to
ADVERSE weather conditions.
(= unfavourable)
She is not AVERSE to publicity.
(= opposed)
advice or advise? My ADVICE is to forget all about it.
(noun = recommendation)
What would you ADVISE me to do?
(verb = recommend)
adviser or advisor? Adviser is the traditionally correct British
spelling. Advisor is more common in
American English.
affect or effect? Use these exemplar sentences as a guide:
Heavy drinking will AFFECT your liver.
(verb)
The EFFECT on her health was
immediate. (noun)
The new manager plans to EFFECT
sweeping changes. (verb = to bring about)
ageing or aging? Both spellings are correct but many would
prefer ageing as it keeps the identity of
the base word (age) more easily
recognised.
agreeto/agreewith The choice of preposition alters the
meaning of the verb:
IAGREEDTO do what he advised.
IAGREEDTO all the conditions.
IAGREEDWITH all they said.
alley or ally? An ALLEY is a little lane.
An ALLY is a friend.
alley (singular), alleys (plural)
ally (singular), allies (plural)
all most or almost? There is a difference in meaning. Use
these exemplar sentences as a guide:
They were ALL (= everyone) MOST kind.
The child was ALMOST (=nearly) asleep.
allowed or aloud? There is a difference in meaning. Use
these exemplar sentences as a guide:
Are we ALLOWED (= permitted) to
smoke in here?
I was just thinking ALOUD (= out loud).
all ready or already? There is a difference in meaning. Use
these exemplar sentences as a guide:
We are ALL (= everyone) READY.
It is ALL (= everything) READY.
She was ALREADY dead (= by then).
all right or alright? Traditional usage would consider ALL
RIGHT to be correct and ALRIGHT to be
incorrect. However, the use of ‘alright’ is so
widespread that some would see it as
acceptable although the majority of educated
users would take care to avoid it.
all so or also? There is a difference in meaning. Use
these exemplar sentences as a guide:
You are ALL (= everyone) SO kind.
You are ALSO (= in addition) generous.
all together or
altogether?
There is a difference in meaning. Use
these exemplar sentences as a guide:
They were ALL (= everybody) huddled
TOGETHER for warmth.
His situation is ALTOGETHER (= totally)
different from yours.
allude or elude? There is a difference in meaning.
ALLUDE means to refer to indirectly.
ELUDE means to evade capture or recall.
allusion, delusion
or illusion?
There is a difference in meaning.
An ALLUSION is an indirect reference.
A DELUSION is a false belief (often
associated with a mental disorder).
An ILLUSION is a deceptive appearance.
all ways or always? There is a difference in meaning.
These three routes are ALL (= each of
them) WAYS into town.
She ALWAYS (= at all times) tells the
truth.
altar or alter? There is a difference in meaning.
The bride and groom stood solemnly
before the ALTAR.
Do you wish to ALTER (= change) the
arrangements?
alternate or
alternative?
We visit our grandparents on
ALTERNATE Saturdays. (= every other
Saturday)
I ALTERNATE between hope and despair.
(= have each mood in turn)
An ALTERNATIVE plan would be to go
by boat. (= another possibility)
The ALTERNATIVES are simple: work or
go hungry. (= two choices)
amend or emend? Both words mean ‘to make changes in
order to improve’. Use AMEND or
EMEND when referring to the correction
of written or printed text.
Use AMEND in a wider context such as
AMENDING the law or AMENDING
behaviour.
among or between? Use BETWEEN when something is shared
by two people. Use AMONG when it is
shared by three or more.
Share the sweets BETWEEN the two of
you.
Share the sweets AMONG yourselves.
However, BETWEEN is used with
numbers larger than two when it means
an exact geographical location or when it
refers to relationships.
Sardinia lies BETWEEN Spain, Algeria,
Corsica and Italy.
It will take a long time before the rift
BETWEEN the five main parties heals.
among or between? Use BETWEEN when something is shared
by two people. Use AMONG when it is
shared by three or more.
Share the sweets BETWEEN the two of
you.
Share the sweets AMONG yourselves.
However, BETWEEN is used with
numbers larger than two when it means
an exact geographical location or when it
refers to relationships.
Sardinia lies BETWEEN Spain, Algeria,
Corsica and Italy.
It will take a long time before the rift
BETWEEN the five main parties heals.
amoral or immoral? There is a difference in meaning.
AMORAL means not being governed by
moral laws, acting outside them.
(note -m-)
IMMORAL means breaking the moral
laws. (note -mm-)
amount or number? AMOUNT is used with non-count nouns:
asmall AMOUNT of sugar; a surprising
AMOUNT of gossip.
NUMBER is used with plural nouns: a
NUMBER of mistakes; a NUMBER of
reasons.
-ance,-ant/-ence,-ent Words with these endings are difficult to
spell and you’ll always need to be on
your guard with them. Check each word
individually when in doubt, but here are
some useful guidelines:
(i) People are generally -ant: attendant,
lieutenant, occupant, sergeant, tenant
(but there are exceptions like
superintendent, president,
resident . . . .).
(ii) Use -ance, -ant, where the companion
words ends in -ation: dominance,
dominant, domination,
variance, variant, variation.
(iii) Use -ence, -ent after qu:
consequence, consequent,
eloquence, eloquent.
(iv) Use -ance, -ant after hard c or hard g:
significance, significant (c sounds like k)
elegance, elegant (hard g)
(v) Use -ence, -ent after soft c or soft g:
innocence, innocent (c sounds like s)
intelligent, intelligence (g sounds like j)
annex or annexe? To ANNEX is to take possession of a
country or part of a country.
An ANNEX is another word for an
appendix in an official document.
An ANNEXE is a building added to the
main building.
ante-/anti- ANTE- means before.
antenatal = before birth
ANTI- means against.
antifreeze = against freezing
arbiter or arbitrator? An ARBITER is a judge or someone with
decisive influence (an arbiter of fashion).
In addition, an ARBITER may intervene
to settle a dispute (-er).
An ARBITRATOR is someone who is
officially appointed to judge the rights and
wrongs of a dispute (-or).
arbitrator or mediator? An ARBITRATOR reaches a judgement
but is not necessarily obeyed.
A MEDIATOR attempts to bring two
opposing sides together and to settle a
dispute.
artist or artiste? Traditionally, an ARTIST is skilled in one
or more of the fine arts (painting, for
example, or sculpture).
Traditionally, the term ARTISTE is
reserved for a performer or entertainer (a
music-hall ARTISTE). However, ARTIST
is now being used to cover both meanings
in the sense of ‘skilled practitioner’, and
ARTISTE is becoming redundant.
as or like? Use these exemplar sentences as a guide:
You look AS if you have seen a ghost.
You look AS though you have seen a
ghost.
AS I expected, he’s missed the train.
You look LIKE your mother.
assume or presume? To ASSUME something to be the case is
to take it for granted without any proof.
To PRESUME something to be the case is
to base it on the evidence available.
assurance
or insurance?
Insurance companies distinguish between
these two terms.
ASSURANCE is the technical term given
for insurance against a certainty (e.g.
death) where payment is guaranteed.
INSURANCE is the technical term given
for insurance against a risk (such as fire,
burglary, illness) where payment is made
only if the risk materialises.
astrology
or astronomy?
ASTROLOGY is the study of the
influence of the stars and planets on
human life and fortune.
ASTRONOMY is the scientific study of
the stars and planets.
aural or oral? AURAL refers to the ears and hearing.
ORAL refers to the mouth and speaking
In speech these words can be very
confusing as they are pronounced
identically.
autobiography or
biography?
An AUTOBIOGRAPHY is an account of
his or her life by the author.
A BIOGRAPHY is an account of a life
written by someone else.
avenge or revenge? The words are very close in meaning but
AVENGE is often used in the sense of just
retribution, punishing a wrong done to
another.
Hamlet felt bound to AVENGE his father’s
death.
REVENGE is often used in the sense of
‘getting one’s own back’ for a petty
offence.
-able/-ible Adjectives ending in -able or -ible can be
difficult to spell because both endings
sound identical. You’ll always need to be
on guard with these words and check
each word individually when you are in
doubt, but here are some useful
guidelines:
(i) Generally use -able when the
companion word ends in -ation:
abominable, abomination
irritable, irritation
(ii) Generally use -ible when the
companion word ends in -ion:
comprehensible, comprehension
digestible, digestion
(iii) Use -able after hard c and hard g:
practicable (c sounds like k)
navigable (hard g)
(iv) Use -ible after soft c and soft g:
forcible (c sounds like s)
legible (g sounds like j)

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