On a daily basis, we see improper preposition usage. In fact, it drives us crazy when we hear supposedly well-educated people on national radio and TV misuse common prepositions in their reporting of the news and current events.
Just to be clear as to what we’re talking about here: a “preposition” is a word that is placed before a noun or pronoun to form a phrase by modifying another word in the sentence. The dictionary defines a preposition as: “…a word governing a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element…” In less technical terms, prepositions are those little connector words that join words and/or phrases to other words and/or phrases.
Examples of common prepositions are: about, above, after, as, at, before, behind, between, beyond, but, by, down, during, in, into, of, off, on, under, until, up, upon, with, within, to name a few. These words almost always function as an adjective or adverb.
Below are about a dozen typical preposition phrases misused in the news media and on popular TV shows.
agree (on), agree (to), agree (with)
We now agree on the terms of the contract.
I intend to agree to his proposal after the modifications.
His observations agree with my findings.
answer (for), answer (to)
He will have to answer for what he did last night.
She will have to answer to her boss on that matter.
begin (by), begin (from), begin (with)
I will begin by taking the oath of allegiance.
The race will begin from the parking lot behind the car dealership.
The project will begin with an environmental assessment.
bored (by), bored (with); NOT “bored of”
She was really bored by last night’s concert.
Over time, I became bored with the whole thing.
capable (of); NOT “capable to”
I knew that they were capable of much more.
The coach told me I was capable of playing at a much higher level.
correspond (to), correspond (with)
Once it is repainted it will correspond to mine.
While away on course I made it a habit to correspond with my parents by e-mail.
impressed (by), impressed (with); NOT “impressed of”
Jason was impressed by their new approach to the issue.
Julia was quite impressed with Susan’s behavior.
graduate (from), graduate (to); NOT “graduated college”
When do you expect to graduate from college?
After the initial phase you will graduate to the next level.
invest (in), invest (with)
Once I receive the funds I will invest in a mix of stocks and bonds.
He decided to invest his savings with the bank.
live (off), live (on)
Once they move to the farm they plan to live off the land.
When I turn 65 I will start to live on a pension.
proceed (to), proceed (with)
After that is done, I will proceed to the next step.
Please proceed with what you were doing when we arrived.
report (on), report (to)
After his assessment he will report on the situation.
He will report to the recruitment center next Monday.
suited (to), suited (for)
They seem very suited to each other.
Brad is well suited for that accounting position.
The above are just a few examples of proper preposition usage in some of the more common preposition phrases. So, here’s a word of warning: if you are trying to improve your English by watching television or listening to the radio, don’t assume that everything you hear is correct. Often it isn’t. Really! So, if you read or hear something that doesn’t seem quite right, look it up.
These days, with social media being a major part of our everyday lives, how you present yourself in writing is increasingly important. If you don’t pay careful attention to the quality of the posts you make online you could be hurting yourself in ways you haven’t even thought of, or can’t even imagine.
A Good Example of This on Facebook
A post appeared recently wherein the author had decided to go into some sort of rant about how they were very upset with people who used animal and cartoon images as their Facebook profile picture. This person wanted only photos of the actual person to be used, and they were therefore going to “unfriend” anyone on who used an image other than their own photo. In this case that the person’s little rant also made numerous disparaging remarks about the characters and motives of the people who don’t use their own photo on Facebook.
The real kicker was that the individual’s rant was absolutely riddled with errors in basic English spelling and grammar.
What would your reaction to this post be? Exactly.
When a post seems to be bordering on illiterate, it loses all credibility. Whatever point they were trying to make about the FB profile photos suddenly became meaningless at best, and hypocritical at worst. And you wouldn’t be the only one to dismiss this person based on the poor quality of that post.
But here’s the most important part: whether you intend for it or not, your post may well be seen by thousands of people worldwide.
Yes, thousands. Even if you have your settings updated to maximum privacy. Anyone within your approved circle of friends can screenshot what you say and post it anywhere else.
Employers are Watching
Prospective employers routinely check out the Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin profiles of job applicants. If you have a habit of making posts with spelling and grammar errors (because it’s only social media, right?), chances are that this will be noticed and taken into account by hiring managers. Any job that requires at least high school graduation will require good writing skills.
College Admission Staff Are Watching
Admissions staff at universities and colleges also check out the online posts of applicants. Do you want to present yourself as semi-illiterate to a college or university? The worst thing about this is that if you get “screened out” by applications staff for your poor social media posts, you’ll never even know that this was the main reason you didn’t make the cut!
Prospective Dates Are Watching (Really!)
In Aziz Ansari’s book “Modern Romance” (Penguin Press, 2015), he states that poorly written text messages are a turn-off and sometimes a deal-breaker for many people during the initial phases of dating.
First, you would be surprised as to how many people claim to have college-level education and then post a profile that is rife with errors in spelling or grammar. So it makes the prospective date wonder: are you telling the truth about your education? If not, what else are you lying about?
Second, if you’re not willing to put your best foot forward when you’re actively trying to impress a date – whether it be for a short-term relationship or a spouse for life – it indicates you’re unlikely to put any effort into the relationship. And who wants to waste time on that?
Always, always have a grammar and spell checker program installed and running whenever you compose any type of social media post or text. Also, after drafting even the shortest of messages, STOP and read it over BEFORE you send it. Correct any errors and edit it for clarity if necessary.
When someone asks you if you want that second bowl of ice cream, how do you respond? With a resounding “yes!” of course! However, if your professor asks if you studied for the exam, you may respond with a less enthusiastic “absolutely.”
According to Merriam-Webster, the word “yes” is a term that can be used to do the following:
- Give a positive answer or reply to a question, request, or offer
- Express agreement with an earlier statement or to say that statement is true
- Introduce a statement that corrects or disagrees with an earlier negative statement
The word “yes” can be interpreted in so many different ways, depending on your context, tone, and word choice. Let’s explore the many nuances of this word and its synonyms.
When you’re in informal situations, you will often choose to use casual language. For instance, when speaking to your friends and family, you would probably respond with “yep” rather than the much more formal “indeed.”
Things have gotten even more casual as technology develops. As we communicate through texting and messaging apps, we continue to alter words like “yes” to convey subtly different meanings. Texting has also fostered the creation of short forms and slang. So, when you receive a text from your friend saying, “Hey, do you want me to grab you some tacos?” you can respond with any of the following versions of “yes:”
- You bet
However, if your friend asks you to pick up some tacos, and you feel inclined to do so, you can respond with these variations:
- Okie dokie
- Sounds good
- For sure
- Sure thing
When you find yourself in formal situations, it is important to speak or write using formal language. Typically, you should avoid short forms, abbreviations, and slang.
Should you receive an email from your professor asking whether you are able to come in early to tutor a fellow student, you can respond with any of the following:
- Of course
And, if your boss asks if you will be able to make it to the budget meeting, you can use one of these hearty responses:
Sometimes, the best way to respond is with a good ol’ sarcastic acceptance. Typically, these are used in informal circumstances when you want to be sassy or funny. Make sure you know your audience before whipping out one of these responses!
Although a truly sarcastic person is capable of making any of the responses in this post sound sarcastic, these ones in particular rely heavily on tone and body language and are commonly used in response to nagging and stupid questions—or to indicate angry acceptance.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah
- Affirmative (Because it is so excessively formal, you’ll most likely find this used when someone is trying to sound funny or robotic.)
- Very well
- No (This last one really requires emphasis, and even perhaps an eye roll, to seal the deal.)
If you are feeling Shakespearean or just enjoy using archaic language, you can use these words to say “yes.” Unless you are writing a paper about medieval times or emailing an archaic language enthusiast, we don’t recommend using these words in formal writing.
Sounds and Body Language
You can also express “yes” without words. These are particularly useful when your mouth is full of tacos and ice cream or when you find yourself just agreeing because you weren’t paying attention to the conversation.
- [Thumbs up]
- [Okay sign]
Phew! Who knew there were so many ways to say “yes” in English? The word “yes” has been changed over the years in order to adapt to every situation and medium in which it is used. We hope this has helped you to navigate the different ways to say “yes.”
Did we miss any? If you know other ways to say “yes,” share them with us on Facebook!
Image source: Aktim/Pixabay.com
“All problems are boring until they’re your own.”
As pessimistic as that sounds, Red’s right. Maybe you’re in the middle of a sentence and you realize: “Wait! I don’t know if I should use that or which in this instance.” It’s important to pick the right one. You don’t want to go Jessica Simpson when you’ve got Rihanna.
Luckily, proper word usage is the new black. If you’re writing in British English, good news: that and which are accepted as interchangeable. However, if you’re writing in American English (or if you want your sentence to be as precise as possible), you need to use that and which correctly.
Before you can decide whether that or which is appropriate for a sentence, it’s important to know the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.
Restrictive Versus Non-restrictive Clauses
A restrictive clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. If a restrictive clause were removed, the sentence would not make sense at all, or the meaning of the sentence would be significantly altered.
A non-restrictive clause introduces helpful information, but that information is not necessary for someone to be able to understand the sentence.
Remember: Every sentence is a story. Completing that story requires the correct choice: that or which.
Three Steps: That vs. Which
It’s important to keep restrictive and non-restrictive clauses in mind when considering the three steps for deciding whether to use that or which:
- Use that to introduce a restrictive clause and which to introduce a non-restrictive clause.
- When writing a restrictive clause, do not place a comma before that. When writing a non-restrictive clause, place a comma before which.
- When a non-restrictive clause appears in the middle of a sentence, place commas around it.
O’Neill, scatter the nuns! There’s a van full of examples coming through!
With the phrase “smarter than other chickens,” it is important to understand that Red is referring to a specific chicken: the smartest chicken.
“There used to be a sign that said ‘CAUTION! WET FLOOR!’ Really told people what was going on.”
The same can be said here. If the phrase “that said ‘CAUTION! WET FLOOR'” was absent, we would have no detail about the sign itself. The phrase is restrictive, so that is used.
“But it wasn’t my moral instincts that led me to Nicaragua in the summer of ’88. It was a young freedom fighter named Carlos.”
And as stated in Rule 2, that is not preceded by a comma because it is a restrictive clause.
Now let’s look at which:
“I tried everything: soap shavings, fox pee, which they sell at the Home Depot for $120 a gallon . . .”
The non-restrictive clause following which reads almost like an addendum; it’s just extra information—a side note.
“So what if he drools a small pond? He takes care of you, doesn’t he? He takes care of your mother, and he’s handsome, and he’s good. And at least he’s trying, which is a lot more than I can say for you!”
As this example shows, which should be preceded by a comma.
“Well, I’ve always thought that agnostic was sort of a cop-out. But you know, if I had to label it, I’d say that I’m a secular humanist, which is not to say I’m not spiritual.”
Piper’s rambling illustrates how non-restrictive clauses simply add more information that is not completely necessary to the creation of a complete sentence. The same can be said for O’Neill’s rant against red velvet cake:
“No, in your heart of hearts, you know as well as I do, red velvet . . . tastes like Play-Doh. It is not velvety. And the only thing that’s good about it is the cream cheese frosting, which is meant to live on top of carrot cake, like God intended.”
The addendum about carrot cake is not imperative to the sentence that explains the only good element of red velvet cake.
Seeing that and which used incorrectly is more depressing than a Tori Amos cover band. Luckily, you have all the tools in your belt to use the correct word without fail. Now you can kick up your feet, relax, and maybe even enjoy a King Cone.
Grammar is often labelled a boring subject, associated with dusty classrooms and complicated worksheets. Admittedly, we can understand why grammar doesn’t inspire happy thoughts in many people, but as any English teacher can tell you, grammar mishaps can be hilarious.
Don’t believe us? We’ve assembled a list of nine English grammar videos that prove how funny English grammar can be. Some are educational, and some are, well, just plain comical. Watch on and see for yourself.
1. Semicolon (feat. Solange)
Ah, the elusive semicolon. This tricky punctuation mark has created problems for many a student. Unfortunately, this hilarious rap will not teach you anything about the semicolon—unless you watch it right to the end. Regardless, you will laugh—hard.
Warning: This video contains some graphic language.
2. Word Crimes
“Weird Al” Yankovic educates the world on word crimes with this hilarious song. “Word Crimes,” of course, are grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. It’s not all jokes, either. This English grammar video contains some good pieces of writing advice. Trust us, it’s a good use of three minutes.
3. The Elements of Style
William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White’s Elements of Style has been remixed into a clever rap. The video has it all: literary references, funny costumes, and solid writing advice. Turn your “ink to gold” and learn “how to put the pen down right” with this great video.
4. How to Pronounce Beyoncé
Have you ever wondered the proper way to pronounce Beyoncé? How about hyperbole? Or chipotle? Well, Pronunciation Manual will not help you. This YouTube channel is filled with horribly mispronounced words, a spoof of the Pronunciation Book channel, which provides accurate pronunciations. You will never say the word Beyoncé the same again.
Disclaimer: Just so everyone is clear, this is not actually how you say Beyoncé.
5. Stop Embarrassing Yourself
Saying words incorrectly is, according to Hank Green, the most embarrassing thing ever. Using his YouTube channel, vlogbrothers, Hank manages to provide a lesson on grammar, geography, and pronunciation in just three minutes.
6. Schoolhouse Rock: Conjunction Junction
A list of English grammar videos would not be complete without this Schoolhouse Rock video. It’s just a classic. Sprinkled with light humor and set to an incredibly catchy tune, “Conjunction Junction” has educated a generation of people on proper grammar (even if said people have forgotten it years later). Check it out to gain a comprehensive understanding of conjunctions.
Warning: There is a very good chance this song will get stuck in your head for ages—likely until next Christmas, when it will inevitably be replaced by an endless cycle of “Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer” (which is just as catchy if somewhat less educational).
7. Apostrophe Usage: The Rescue of a Misused Apostrophe
Set in modern day Chatham, Ontario, a group of soldiers go on a mission to save the misused and misplaced apostrophe. This is their story.
Disclaimer: If you witness punctuation misuse, please report it to Scribendi.com.
8. Noah Fence Taken
You know when you’re scrolling through your Facebook timeline and you see a status with really bad grammar—so bad it makes you cringe? Well, Jackfilms put that feeling into a video series. Join him as he recites some of the worst YouTube comments and social media posts of the week. This video is guaranteed to make you laugh, cringe, and maybe even cry.
Warning: This video also contains graphic language. He is, after all, reading Internet comments.
9. Learning English Pronunciation
If you learned the English language as a teenager or as an adult, then you remember the struggle. Understanding and pronouncing are two very different things, and it can be hard to get your pronunciation just right. This scene from the movie The Pink Panther pretty much sums up the struggle all English language learners face.
See? We told you we could prove it! Grammar may be boring at times, and English is certainly a hard language to learn, but we hope you see that learning grammar can be fun. If you need more help with English grammar, check out Inklyo’s GrammarCamp course or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Idioms are figures of speech that become fixed in a language. Usually, an idiom is figurative in modern contexts but once had a literal meaning. These literal meanings, or idiom origins, can help a learner of English to understand where a phrase originated.
Ever wondered what it means to “turn a blind eye” or “pull out all the stops”? Wonder no more!
Because the English language is full of idioms, we wanted to compile a list of English idioms and their origins to help make better sense of how these idioms work in modern contexts.
Ready? Let’s go!
1. Straight from the horse’s mouth
Meaning: getting information directly from the most reliable source
Origin: This one is said to come from the 1900s, when buyers could determine a horse’s age by examining its teeth. It’s also why you shouldn’t “look a gift horse in the mouth,” as inspecting a gift is considered bad etiquette.
2. Let the cat out of the bag
Meaning: to mistakenly reveal a secret
Origin: Up to and including in the 1700s, a common street fraud included replacing valuable pigs with less valuable cats and selling them in bags. When a cat was let out of a bag, the jig was up.
3. Butter someone up
Meaning: to praise or flatter someone, usually to gain a favor
Origin: A customary religious act in ancient India included throwing butter balls at the statues of gods to seek good fortune and their favor.
4. Pulling someone’s leg
Meaning: teasing someone, usually by lying in a joking manner
Origin: Although pulling someone’s leg is all in good fun nowadays, it originally described the way in which thieves tripped their victims to rob them.
5. Wolf in sheep’s clothing
Meaning: someone who is pretending to be something they are not, usually to the detriment of others
Origin: This one’s attributed to the Bible (Matthew 7:15). The Bible also gave us “rise and shine” (Isaiah 60:1), “seeing eye to eye” (Isaiah 62:8), and a “broken heart” (Psalm 69:20).
6. Hands down
Meaning: without a lot of effort; by far
Origin: Winning “hands down” once referred to 19th-century horseracing, when a jockey could remove his hands from the reins and still win the race because he was so far ahead.
7. Riding shotgun
Meaning: riding in the front seat of a vehicle next to the driver
Origin: In the Wild West, the person who sat next to the driver was often equipped with a shotgun to kill any robbers that might happen upon the coach.
8. Barking up the wrong tree
Meaning: pursuing a misguided course of action
Origin: Likely referring to hunting, this saying explains when a dog would literally bark at the bottom of the wrong tree after the prey in question moved to the next branch.
9. Flying off the handle
Meaning: suddenly becoming enraged
Origin: This one is said to come from poorly made axes of the 1800s that would literally detach from the handle. Yikes!
10. Cost an arm and a leg
Meaning: extremely expensive
Origin: The story goes that this phrase originated from 18th-century paintings, as famous people like George Washington would have their portraits done without certain limbs showing. Having limbs showing is said to have cost more.
11. Sleep tight
Meaning: used to tell someone to sleep well
Origin: One possible origin of this phrase dates back to when mattresses were supported by ropes; sleeping tight meant sleeping with the ropes pulled tight, which would provide a well-sprung bed.
12. Bite the bullet
Meaning: to perform a painful task or endure an unpleasant situation
Origin: In the 1800s, patients would literally bite on a bullet to cope with the pain of having surgery before anesthesia was common.
13. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
Meaning: look for avoidable errors so you don’t remove something good with the bad
Origin: This idiom allegedly comes from a time when the household bathed in the same water; first, the lord would bathe, then the men, the lady, the women, the children, and the babies last. The bath water is said to have been so dirty that there was a risk of throwing the baby out with the water once everyone was done bathing!
14. Jump the shark
Meaning: the moment when a form of entertainment reaches a decline in quality by including gimmicks to maintain interest.
Origin: In the show Happy Days, the character Fonzie literally jumps over a shark while water skiing; afterward, radio personality Jon Hein popularized the phrase “jump the shark” to describe the decline of the show.
15. Minding your Ps and Qs
Meaning: being on your best behavior
Origin: There are many origin stories for this one, but perhaps the one that is most fun is that bartenders would keep track of the pints and quarts consumed by their patrons with the letters “P” and “Q.”
16. Turn a blind eye
Meaning: to consciously ignore unwanted information
Origin: The phrase “to turn a blind eye” is said to originate with Admiral Horatio Nelson, who allegedly looked through his telescope using his blind eye to avoid signals from his superior telling him to withdraw from battle.
17. Armed to the teeth
Meaning: to be extremely well equipped
Origin: The idea behind being “armed to the teeth” is that the weapon wielder would carry the maximum number of weapons, so many that he or she would be forced to carry some between his or her teeth.
18. Get one’s goat
Meaning: to irritate or annoy someone
Origin: This one also comes from horseracing. Jockeys placed goats in the stables with their horses as this was said to relax the horses. However, competitors would remove the goats of their rivals to spook their competitors’ horses, hoping they would consequently lose the race.
19. Pull out all the stops
Meaning: to do everything you can to make something successful
Origin: Alluding to the piano-like instrument the organ, this phrase refers to when the stops are pulled out to turn on all the sounds in an organ, allowing the organ to play all the sounds at once and, therefore, be as loud as possible.
20. Dish fit for the gods
Meaning: a very scrumptious or delectable meal
Origin: We can thank Shakespeare for this expression (found in Julius Caesar), but we can also thank him for “foaming at the mouth” (Julius Caesar), “hot blooded” (The Merry Wives of Windsor), “in stitches” (Twelfth Night), “green-eyed monster” (Othello), “wearing your heart on your sleeve” (Othello), and “one fell swoop” (Macbeth).
Did any of these idiom origins surprise you? Do you know of any other English idioms with surprising origin stories? Alternatively, do you know of any other idioms in other languages that you think are interesting or funny? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter!
An Introduction to Irregular Verbs
An irregular verb is a verb that is not conjugated (changed according to tense) in the same way as most other verbs. While native English speakers learn which verbs are irregular as young children, memorizing this seemingly random list of irregular verbs can be very difficult for English as a second language (ESL) learners. Still a bit confused?
Let’s start by looking at some common regular verbs:
Makes sense, right? Just add –ed, and you’ve got yourself a verb in the past tense. But this rule does not work for irregular verbs. For example, fly doesn’t become flyed, but flew. Eat doesn’t become eated, but ate, and so on. Here are more examples of irregular verbs:
For a more comprehensive list of irregular verbs, check out this dictionary of irregular verbs. Unfortunately for ESL learners, the only way to be sure about what is an irregular verb and what is a regular verb is to memorize them while reading and speaking English. With lots of time and practice, even a non-native speaker can be an expert in these tricky parts of speech!
Test Your Knowledge!
Think you know all there is to know about irregular verbs? Put that knowledge to the test with this extensive irregular verb quiz created by the language experts at Scribendi.com. For the seasoned English professional, this quiz can be a great way to brush up on some of the lesser-known irregular verbs. For the ESL learner, quizzes like this one can be a great way to test your learning progress!
Image source: Olu Eletu/Stocksnap.io
Peter flew to the window. Then, he was at the window. Earlier in the night, he had flown by the window. He thought it was open, so he flew into the window. Wendy saw Peter from the window. Her breath left a mark on the window. Peter’s favorite part of the window was how it opened.
All I had to do in the above sentences was change the prepositions and alter the wording a bit, and bam! they were new sentences with completely new meanings. Still, the object of each of these sentences was the window. As you can see, prepositions are small but mighty parts of speech. To English language learners, these pesky little words can be very challenging to master.
It’s really no surprise that English prepositions are so difficult to learn. For one thing, English has an excessive number of these relational words—more, in fact, than any other language out there. On top of that, the rules for when to use each preposition can be quite arbitrary. Native English speakers know when to use each preposition only because they are so familiar with the common uses of these words, but not because there are technical, logical rules that dictate their usage.
So, you may be wondering, is it even possible for an English language learner to master prepositions? Well, that depends. Are you willing to do lots of reading, lots of writing, and lots of practicing? Then of course it’s possible! Anything is possible, after all. All it takes is faith and trust . . . and a little bit of pixie dust!
What is a preposition?
A preposition is a part of speech that indicates the temporal, spatial, or logical relationship between the object and the rest of the sentence. Common prepositions include to, of, for, by, from, about, and around. There are many others, including above, after, before, below, beneath, during, following, into, inside, near, onto, outside, through, toward, under, and upon.
Prepositions are very important to the meaning of many sentences. Just look at these sentences about Peter and the Lost Boys to see what I mean. The prepositions are in bold, and the objects are underlined.
Peter flew home to Neverland.
The Lost Boys had been waiting for Peter for hours.
Thankfully, none of the boys knew how to tell time.
Why are prepositions important?
Let’s look more carefully at each example. We can do this by removing the prepositions and seeing what effect that has on the sentence.
Peter flew home Neverland.
In the first example, to is needed to connect Neverland to the rest of the sentence. Without it, the sentence stops making sense after home.
The Lost Boys had been waiting Peter hours.
In the second sentence, there are two objects: Peter and hours. For establishes the role played by these objects. Without for, Peter actually becomes an adjective describing hours, which neither makes sense nor conveys the intended meaning.
Thankfully, none the boys knew how tell time.
In the final example, removing the prepositions means there is now no logical connection between none and the boys, nor is it clear how tell time fits into the rest of the sentence.
As you can see, prepositions are very important for creating meaning!
I know memorization isn’t the best way to learn, but when it comes to prepositions, it’s probably your best bet. Here’s a quick list of rules and examples of proper preposition usage to remember.
- Peter can go home or be at home, but he has to go to his house or be at his house. He can’t go house or be at house.
- Saying that Peter flew by Captain Hook’s ship is very similar to saying that he flew past the ship. However, saying that Peter lives by Captain Hook’s ship means he lives near the ship, not that he passes by the ship to get home.
- Tinkerbell recovered from an injury, but she is done with pirates and she hopes for a peaceful future with Peter.
- Peter can fly to Wendy’s window at night, noon, or midnight, but if he travels to the window at other times, he must go in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
- Peter Pan was published in 1911, but it was published on a Friday.
Test your knowledge and learn more!
Practice makes perfect, and there’s no better way to practice than to take a quiz! If you’d like to learn more about when to use prepositions, you should take a break from Peter Pan and focus your attention instead on another magical topic: puppies! This fun quiz covers basic preposition usage with help from your favorite furry friends.
Or maybe you’re looking for more comprehensive information about prepositions. If that’s the case, check out The Complete Guide to the Parts of Speech, where you’ll learn everything you need to know about the building blocks of the English language. How magical!
Image source: Unsplash/Pixabay.com, Stevebidmead/Pixabay.com
If you speak English (and if you’re reading this, you presumably do), you’ve probably confused two words that are pronounced or spelled the same but have different meanings. This is extremely easy to do, because English contains many homonyms, homophones, and homographs.
Hold on a minute—more words that are similar-looking and easy to confuse? I’m supposed to be helping you, not making this more complicated! While homonyms, homophones, and homographs make English much more difficult, that complexity also makes the language very interesting, and occasionally, very funny.
Understanding the difference between homonyms, homophones, and homographs is vital for communicating properly, so let’s dive in!
Homonyms (homo meaning same and nym meaning name) are words that sound alike but are different in meaning. They can be spelled the same or differently. It’s important not to misuse homonyms, though, because the meaning of what you want to say can change drastically if you confuse the word’s meaning.
For example, if your friend tells you that he saw a murder on the way home from work, you’ll probably want to clarify whether he means that he witnessed a violent crime or whether he saw a group of crows. This is because it will be difficult to tell which he means over the phone or in a text message, as the words are spelled the same and pronounced the same. (However, it will probably be easy to tell which he means in person, as you’ll be able to see what kind of facial expression he’s making!)
There, their, and they’re are probably the most misused words in the English language. They’ve been misused on restaurant signs, in Internet comments, and across bumper stickers. What is it about these words that makes their usage so tricky? The answer: they’re homophones.
Homophones (homo meaning same and phone meaning sound) are words that are pronounced the same but are different in meaning. They differ from homonyms because they are not spelled the same, as you can see in the example of there (indicating a place or idea), their (indicating possession), and they’re (indicating a contraction of they are).
Homographs (homo meaning same and graph meaning writing) differ from homonyms and homophones in that homographs are not pronounced the same. They are spelled the same, however, and are different in meaning. They are not so easily confused in spoken English, but they can be tricky to spot in written English.
Consider the word bow. Did you picture a tied-up ribbon? The front of a boat? The device used to play a string instrument? An actor lowering his upper body? The word bow is a homograph with different pronunciations and many different meanings. So you’ll have to consider the sentence’s context to determine the intended meaning.
By considering the differences between the words themselves—nym, phone, and graph—it’s easier to grasp and remember their definitions. Looking at common examples of homonyms, homophones, and homographs helps to display their differences.
While the English language doesn’t make it easy, understanding the differences between words that look or sound the same is important for getting your point across and for understanding others, both of which are key to successful communication.
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