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Department of English Grammar

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Posts tagged SPELLING

What’s up with “alumnus,” “alumna,” “alumni,” and “alumnae”?

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Let’s suppose that you’re about to graduate from college. Naturally, you’re excited about buying a license plate frame for your car to express your pride in your alma mater.

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But don’t rush into buying any license plate frame; make sure that you don’t embarrass your school by purchasing the wrong one!

Before you grab the coolest looking “Alumni - (Name of School)" license plate frame, ask yourself the all-important question: Am I an “alumnus,” “alumni,” “alumna,” or “alumnae”? (Many people have never even heard of the last two; therefore, very few companies even make such license plate frames. We happened to find one such plate in the wild.)

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You might have read all this and asked, "Who the [grawlix] cares?”

YOU should, my friend. It all begins with YOU

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Words (even Latin ones) have meanings.

P.S. The abbreviation “alum" works in place of "alumnus" and "alumna," and "alums" works in place of "alumnae" and "alumni."

What’s up with “than” and “then”?

We use than to make unequal comparisons (e.g., more than, less than, taller than, faster than, richer than).

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Need more examples?

  • I have more homework assignments to finish than you do.
  • Get back home no later than midnight, OK?
  • Jake claims that he loves food more than he loves people.

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We use then to mean “at that past time,” “next,” or “therefore.”

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So remember: if you flip the A in “thAn” to the side, it looks like a > (greater than) symbol. We use than in unequal comparisons (greater than, less than, etc.). Otherwise, you’re looking for then.

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What’s up with “awhile” and “a while”?

If "lay" vs. "lie," "who" vs. "whom," and "affect" vs. "effect" are at the top of the grammar/usage pyramid, “awhile” vs. “a while” is one layer below it. In other words, they are confusing words that cause a lot of grief to thousands of people. This post will clear things up.

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These two terms are confusing because they look and sound virtually identical.

Fear not. There is an easy way to remember how to use “a while”:

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What’s up with British and American spelling?

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For a longer list of such words, click here. That article we wrote on Medium has a link to 1,800 words that are spelled / spelt differently between American and British English.

Get off the aeroplane’s wing, Patrick. An airplane (or its wing) is no place for a starfish.

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What’s up with “alright” and “all right”?

Most grammarians and teachers agree that “alright" is informal, which basically means that you shouldn’t use it in essays for school.

However, so many people are—and have been—using “alright” that it might soon be “all right” to use “alright” in essays. But until then, avoid “alright” at all costs in formal writing.

It is understandable that many people use “alright” (and assume that it’s correct); after all, other common words that begin with “al-" are considered standard:

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So remember,

In closing, even though “all right” is better than “alright,” you should consider using “adequate,” “satisfactory,” or some other synonym to make your writing sound a bit more sophisticated. After all, “all right” is only all right; it’s not great.

All right?

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What’s up with “until,” “till,” “‘til,” and “til”?

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Confusing, right?

Here’s how to avoid the whole mess. Convince yourself to always write “until" (5 letters), instead of "till" (4 letters), "'till" (5 characters), "'til" (4 characters), "til" (3 letters), or "'til" (4 characters). "Until" is barely longer than all of the other options, and more importantly, no one will be tempted to go all Grammar Nazi on your usage.

tl;dr:

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You will undoubtedly find “'til" in published works, but those are likely to be novels and other fictional works, i.e., in less formal settings. You are unlikely to find it in a newspaper article or a Ph.D. dissertation.

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Until next time … 

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