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Vocabulary

specially or especially?

Many people wonder if there is a difference between the adverbs “specially” and “especially”. Even native speakers aren’t always sure how to use them. In some cases they can actually mean the same thing, especially in informal speech. However, for the sake of simplicity, here are the basic differences (more…)

cannot or can not?

People often ask me whether they should write cannot (1 word) or can not (2 words). (more…)

Saying of the Day

A saying is a short, clever expression that usually contains advice or expresses some obvious truth. Many traditional sayings are still in general use today. (more…)

Idiom of the Day

An idiom is a group of words in current usage having a meaning that is not deducible from those of the individual words. For example, “to rain cats and dogs” – which means “to rain very heavily” – is an idiom; and “over the moon” – which means (more…)

current versus contemporary

These two words are very similar some of the time, but can also be very different.

current is an adjective that means “belonging to the present time, happening (more…)

The King is dead. Long live the King!

I received the following question from Jeanette about using capitals:

“I am a writer and always have problems with the following:
‘The king is dead. Long live King Edward.’
‘She told me Captain Lorca read the book. The captain could read.’

I am referring to the same king in the first sentence, and to the same captain in the second.  Why wouldn’t both be capitalized? Thanks for your help. I have no rule to follow with this problem.”

It’s a good question, with (quite) a simple answer.

In the case of “King Edward” and “Captain Lorca” we are using (more…)

The R Word

In these times of apparent worldwide economic gloom and despair emanating from the collapse of the USA’s financial system, you may have heard reference on TV or elsewhere to the R word. What on earth is the R word?

Sometimes it is difficult for people to accept facts.  At such times, there may be certain words that people don’t like to say. If they need to express that word, they may use the first letter only, and hope that everyone else understands. It also suggests, and this is done partly in humour, that the word is a bad, “dirty” or otherwise offensive word.

So just what is the R word? (more…)

optimum or optimal?

Is there a difference between optimum and optimal?

As adjectives, they have the same meaning: best; most favourable; most conducive to a good result

They both come from the Latin optimus, meaning “best”.

Look at these examples:

  • What is the optimum/optimal childbearing age?
  • We need to find the optimal/optimum solution.
  • In our case, the optimum/optimal investment would produce a modest return at no risk.

Optimum can also be a noun, while optimal has two derivatives:

  • optimally (adverb)
  • optimality (noun)

practical or practicable?

Let’s try to understand the difference between these two words.

practical (adjective): useful and suitable for a particular purpose

  • I love your kitchen. It’s really practical. Everything is in the right place, and at the right height.

practicable (adjective):  able to be done; can be put into practice

  • Your idea about making a new car park is not practicable. There is not enough space.

Note that there are a few other meanings for “practical”.

presume or assume?

People are often unsure about the difference between these two words. Indeed, they are very close in meaning.

to presume something (verb):  to believe something to be true, but without being 100% sure

  • I presume you’ll come to my party. (I’ll be surprised if you don’t come, but I’ll accept your decision.)

to assume something (verb):  to take something for granted, to believe it without question

  • I assume you’ll come to my party. (I expect to see you at my party. I will want to know why if you don’t come.)