Common Errors Starting with P

par excellance vs par excellence

Photoshop is the picture-editing software par excellence. We often italicize this phrase—meaning roughly “finest or most characteristic of its type,” “exemplary”—to indicate it is French. The Frenc...

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page vs site

In the early days of the Internet, it became customary to refer to Web sites as “pages” though they might in fact consist of many different pages. The Jane Austen Page, for instance, incorporates e...

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pair (number)

“This is a left-handed pair of scissors.” “There is a pair of glasses onthe mantelpiece.” “Pair” is singular in this sort of expression. Notethat we say “that is a nice pair of pants” even though w...

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pair vs pare vs pear

<p>Pair means to group similar or identical things taken together in sets of twos.</p><pre>"I have a pair of shoes for sale."</pre><p>Pare means to remove and peel the outer covering of something w...

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palate vs palette vs pallet

Your “palate” is the roof of your mouth, and by extension, your sense of taste. A “palette” is the flat board an artist mixes paint on (or by extension, a range of colors). A “pallet” is either a b...

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parallel vs symbol

Beginning literature students often write sentences like this: “He usesthe rose as a parallel for her beauty” when they mean “a symbol of herbeauty.” If you are taking a literature class, it’s good...

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parallelism in a series

Phrases in a series separated by commas or conjunctions must all havethe same grammatical form. “They loved mountain-climbing, to gather wild mushrooms, and first aid practice” should be corrected ...

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parameters vs perimeters

When parameters were spoken of only by mathematicians and scientists, the term caused few problems; but now that it has become widely adopted by other speakers, it is constantly confused with “peri...

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paramount vs tantamount

“Paramount” means “best,” “top.” Think of Paramount Pictures’ trademark of a majestic mountain peak encircled with stars.“Tantamount” means “equivalent.”“The committee’s paramount concern is to get...

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paranoid

The most common meaning of “paranoid” has to do with irrational fears of persecution, especially the unjustified fear that people are plotting against you. More generally it is applied to irrationa...

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parentheses

The most common error in using parenthesis marks (besides using them too much) is to forget to enclose the parenthetical material with a final, closing parenthesis mark. The second most common is t...

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parliment vs parliament

Americans unfamiliar with parliamentary systems often mistakenly leavethe second “A” out of “parliament” and “parliamentary.”

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partake vs participate

<p>Partake is a formal word signifying the act if taking part in an activity - to participate actively.</p><pre>"I have decided to partake in the ongoing link fest."</pre><p>Participate means to jo...

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passed vs past

If you are referring to a period of time before now or a distance, use “past”: “the team performed well in the past,” “the police car drove past the suspect’s house.” If you are referring to the ac...

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passive voice

There are legitimate uses for the passive voice: “this absurd regulationwas of course written by a committee.” But it’s true that you can makeyour prose more lively and readable by using the active...

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pastorial vs pastoral

<p>If you are referring to a musical composition, literary work or art idealizing rural life, it is pastoral. Pastorial is a misspelling. Pastoral is correct.</p><p>Pastoral refers to the duty o...

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past time vs pastime

An agreeable activity like knitting with which you pass the time is yourpastime. Spell it as one word, with one “S” and one “T.”

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pawn off vs palm off

Somebody defrauds you by using sleight of hand (literal or figurative) to “palm” the object you wanted and give you something inferior instead. The expression is not “to pawn off,” but “to palm off.”

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payed vs paid

<p>Payed is the past tense of the word pay which means to seal a deck or hull of a ship with tar so as to prevent leakage. However, its use remains limited as it is known as a nautical term having ...

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peace vs piece

It’s hard to believe many people really confuse the meaning of thesewords; but the spellings are frequently swapped, probably out of sheercarelessness. “Piece” has the word “pie” buried in it, whic...

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peak vs peek vs pique

It is tempting to think that your attention might be aroused to a high point by “peaking” your curiosity; but in fact, “pique” is a French word meaning “prick,” in the sense of “stimulate.” The exp...

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peal out vs peel out

Bells and thunderclaps peal out; but if your car “lays down rubber” in a squealing departure, the expression is “peel out” because you are literally peeling a layer of rubber off your tires.

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peasant vs pheasant

When I visited the former Soviet Union I was astonished to learn that farmworkers were still called “peasants” there. In English-speaking countries we tend to think of the term as belonging strictl...

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pedal vs peddle

If you are delivering newspapers from a bike you can pedal it around theneighborhood (perhaps wearing “pedal-pushers”), but when you sell themfrom a newsstand you peddle them.

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pen vs pin

<p>A &nbsp;pen is a writing tool originally made from a feather but presently a small tubular equipment containing ink used to make marks or write.</p><pre>Kylie can't seem to find her pen. She sai...

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penultimate vs next to last

To confuse your readers, use the term “penultimate,” which means “next to last,” but which most people assume means “the very last.” And if you really want to baffle them, use “antepenultimate” to ...

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peoples

In the Middle Ages “peoples” was not an uncommon word, but later writers grew wary of it because “people” has a collective, plural meaning which seemed to make “peoples” superfluous. It lived on in...

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per vs according to

Using “per” to mean “according to” as in “ship the widgets as per theinstructions of the customer” is rather old-fashioned business jargon,and is not welcome in other contexts. “Per” is fine when u...

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percent decrease

When something has been reduced by one hundred percent, it’s all gone(or if the reduction was in its price, it’s free). You can’t properlyspeak of reducing anything by more than a hundred percent (...

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percent vs per cent

In the US the two-word spelling “per cent” is considered rather old-fashioned and is rarely used; but in the UK and countries influenced by it, the two-word form is still standard, though use of “p...

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pernickety vs persnickety

The original Scottish dialect form was “pernickety,” but Americanschanged it to “persnickety” a century ago. “Pernickety” is generallyunknown in the US though it’s still in wide use across the Atla...

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perogative vs prerogative

<p>Prerogative is an inherited privilege or official right that one has over others. It is particularly related to monarchs and rulers' right to command, direct, rule and control.</p><pre><i>"One c...

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perpetrate vs perpetuate

“Perpetrate” is something criminals do (criminals are sometimes called"perps” in cop slang). When you seek to continue something you aretrying to perpetuate it.

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perse vs per se

This legal term (meaning “in, of, or by itself”) is a bit pretentious,but you gain little respect if you misspell “per se” as a single word.Worse is the mistaken “per say.”

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persecute vs prosecute

When you persecute someone, you’re treating them badly, whether theydeserve it or not; but only legal officers can prosecute someone for acrime.

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personality

In show business personalities are people famous for being famous(mostly popular actors and singers); people with more substantialaccomplishments like distinguished heads of state and Nobel Prizewi...

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perspective vs prospective

<p>Perspective is the choice of a single angle or unique point of view from which to sense, categorize, measure actions, thoughts and decisions.</p><pre>"From my own perspective, I think we should ...

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peruse

This word, which means “examine thoroughly” is often misused tomean “glance over hastily.” Although some dictionaries accept the lattermeaning, it is not traditional. When it is used to mean “look ...

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perverse vs perverted

The sex-related meanings of words tend to drive out all other meanings. Most people think of both “perverse” and “perverted” only in contexts having to do with desire; but “perverse” properly has t...

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phantom vs fathom

<p>A phantom is like a ghost. I’ll bet you’ve heard of the famous musical “Phantom of the Opera.” </p><p>A fathom is a measurement of depth in water. It’s equal to about 6 feet or 1.8 meters. </p><...

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phenomena vs phenomenon

There are several words with Latin or Greek roots whose plural forms ending in A are constantly mistaken for singular ones. See, for instance, and and . it’s “this phenomenon,” but “these phenomena.”

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phoney vs phony

The usual spelling in the US is “phony”; the usual spelling in the UK and in some countries influenced by it is “phoney.”

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picaresque vs picturesque

“Picaresque” is a technical literary term you are unlikely to have a use for. It labels a sort of literature involving a picaro (Spanish), a lovable rogue who roams the land having colorful adventu...

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pickup vs pick up

The noun is spelled “pickup” as in “drive your pickup” or “that coffee gave me a pickup,” or “we didn’t have a real date; it was just a pickup.” If it’s a thing, use the single-word form. But if it...

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picture

The pronunciation of “picture” as if it were “pitcher” is common in somedialects, but not standard. The first syllable should sound like “pick."

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pigeon english vs pidgin english

“Pidgin” evolved from a Chinese mispronuncation of “business,” and the original pidgin English developed as a simplified blend of Chinese and English used to facilitate international trade. Other s...

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pin number vs pin

Those who object to “PIN number” on the grounds that the N in “PIN”stands for “number” in the phrase “personal identification number” arequite right, but it may be difficult to get people to say an...

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pinned up vs pent up

If you wear your heart on your sleeve I suppose you might be said to have “pinned up” emotions; but the phrase you want when you are suppressing your feelings is “pent-up emotions.” Similarly, it’s...

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pith and vinegar vs piss and vinegar

To say that people are “full of piss and vinegar” is to say that they are brimming with energy. Although many speakers assume the phrase must have a negative connotation, this expression is more of...

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plain vs plane

<p>‘Plain’ is an adjective with many uses and shades of meaning around the ideas of ‘simple’, ‘direct’, and not fancy. For example, ‘plain yogurt’ has no flavoring. ‘Plain language’ means saying wh...

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plays a factor vs plays a role

Some people say that an influential force “plays a factor” in a decision or change. They are mixing up two different expressions: “is a factor” and “plays a role.”

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playwrite vs playwright

It might seem as if a person who writes plays should be called a “playwrite” but in fact a playwright is a person who has wrought words into a dramatic form, just as a wheelwright has wrought wheel...

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plead innocent

Lawyers frown on the phrase “plead innocent” (it’s “plead guilty” or"plead not guilty”); but outside of legal contexts the phrase isstandard English.

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pleaded vs pleated

A pleat is a sharp fold, so it’s a pleated skirt, no matter how much your husband has pleaded that you wear it.

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plug-in vs outlet

That thing on the end of an electrical cord is a plug, which goes into the socket of the wall outlet.

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plus vs add

Some people continue a pattern picked up in childhood of using “plus” as a verb to mean “add,” as in “You plus the 3 and the 4 and you get 7.” “Plus” is not a verb; use ”add” instead.

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podium vs lectern

Strictly speaking, a podium is a raised platform on which you stand to give a speech; the piece of furniture on which you place your notes and behind which you stand is a lectern.

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poinsetta vs poinsettia

Those showy plants that appear in the stores around Christmas are “poinsettias,” named after American diplomat John R. Poinsett who introduced them into the US from Mexico. The Latin ending “-ia” i...

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point in time vs point, time

This redundancy became popular because it was used by astronauts seeking to distinguish precisely between a point in time and a point in space. Since most people use the expression in contexts wher...

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point of you vs point of view

Your viewpoint on a subject is your “point of view,” not your “ point of you.” “Your” and “of you” mean the same thing, and combining the two makes little sense; but the expression really gets weir...

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poisonous vs venomous

Snakes and insects that inject poisonous venom into their victims are venomous, but a snake or tarantula is not itself poisonous because if you eat one it won’t poison you. A blowfish will kill you...

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pole vs poll

A pole is a long stick. You could take a “poll” (survey or ballot) to determine whether voters want lower taxes or better education.

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pompom vs pompon

To most people that fuzzy ball on the top of a knit hat and the implement wielded by a cheerleader are both “pompoms,” but to traditionalists they are “pompons,” spelled the way the French—who gave...

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poo-poo vs pooh-pooh vs pupu

The toddler with a soggy diaper proudly announces “I go poo-poo”!The skeptic is inclined to pooh-pooh outlandish ideas. Don’t mix up matter for skepticism with material for the septic system.A sele...

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pore vs pour

When used as a verb, “pore” has the unusual sense of “scrutinize,” as in “She pored over her receipts.” If it’s coffee or rain, the stuff pours.

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practicable vs practical

<p>Practicable means when an action/idea/thought/decision is capable of being accomplished. It means the result of such task is feasible.</p><pre>The importation of vehicle spare parts seems practi...

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practice vs practise

In the United Kingdom, “practice” is the noun, “practise” the verb; but in the US the spelling “practice” is commonly used for both, though the distinction is sometimes observed. “Practise” as a no...

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practicle vs practical

<p>Practical involves the part/section of an exam which has the candidate demonstrate how to apply theories to real life situations.</p><pre>"Most of the theories in Physics have practical applicat...

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pray vs prey

If you want a miracle, pray to God. If you’re a criminal you prey on your victims. Incidentally, it’s “praying mantis,” not “preying mantis.” The insect holds its forefeet in a position suggesting ...

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precede vs proceed

<p>Proceed is used to show approval to go forward with a plan of action.</p><pre>"We shall now proceed with the building project."</pre><p>Precede means to come before something or prior to.</p><pr...

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precedence vs precedents

Although these words sound the same, they work differently. The pop staris given precedence over the factory worker at the entrance to the danceclub. “Precedents” is just the plural of “precedent":...

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precipitate vs precipitous

Both of these adjectives are based on the image of plunging over the brink of a precipice, but “precipitate” emphasizes the suddenness of the plunge, “precipitous,” the steepness of it. If you make...

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predominate vs predominant

<p>Predominate is a verb that means to be main element, the most important, dominant. </p><pre>“The controversy surrounding Brexit predominates UK news stories these days.”</pre><p> Predominant is ...

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predominately vs predominantly

“Predominantly” is formed on the adjective “predominant,” not the verb “predominate”; so though both forms are widely accepted, “predominantly”makes more sense. See .

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preemptory vs peremptory

“Peremptory” (meaning “imperative” ) is often misspelled andmispronounced “preemptory” through confusion caused by the influence ofthe verb “preempt,” whose adjectival form is actually “preemptive.”

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preferably

Although some US dictionaries now recognize the pronunciation of “preferably” with the first two syllables pronounced just like “prefer”—first “E” long and the stress on the second syllable—the sta...

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prejudice vs prejudiced

<p>Prejudice is any preconceived opinion, judgement or feeling whether positive or negative formed beforehand without the knowledge of facts. It is a judgement based of sentiments.</p><pre>"I'd lik...

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pre-madonna vs prima donna

The leading soprano in an opera is the prima donna (Italian for “leading lady”). As an insult, “prima donna” implies that the person under discussion is egotistical, demanding, and doesn’t work wel...

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premier vs premiere

These words are, respectively, the masculine and feminine forms of the word for “first” in French; but they have become differentiated in English. Only the masculine form is used as an adjective, a...

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premise vs premises

<p>Premise is an action that involves stating or assuming something as a proposition to an argument or a basis/condition for further heated discussions.</p><pre>"My possible premise to this discuss...

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prepone

South Asian speakers have evolved the logical word “prepone” to mean theopposite of “postpone": to move forward in time. it’s a handy word, butusers of it should be aware that those unfamiliar with...

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prepositions (repeated)

In the sentence “Alex liked Nancy, with whom he shared hisSnickers bar with” only one “with” is needed—eliminate either one. Look out for similarly duplicated prepositions.Incidentally, an often-ci...

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prepositions (wrong)

One of the clearest indications that a person reads little and doesn’t hear much formal English is a failure to use the right preposition in a common expression. You aren’t ignorant to a fact; you’...

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prescribe vs proscribe

You recommend something when you prescribe it, but you forbid it when you proscribe it. The usually positive function of “pro-” confuses many people.

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presently vs currently

<p>Currently is used to refer to an action which now exists in a particular timeline.</p><pre>"I am currently in Singapore."</pre><p>Presently, on the other hand is used to refer to a future occurr...

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present writer vs i

Formal writers used to avoid writing “I” when referring to themselves by using instead the phrase “the present writer.” This practice is generally discouraged by modern editors, and is considered a...

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prespiration vs perspiration

<p>Perspiration is a salty, watery liquid secreted by the pores of humans or animals.</p><pre>"He perspired profusely under the hot sun."</pre><p>Prespiration on the other hand is a common misspell...

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pretty vs somewhat

It’s pretty common to use “pretty” to mean “somewhat” in ordinaryspeech; but it should be avoided in formal writing, where sometimes"very” is more appropriate. The temptation to use “pretty” usuall...

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primer

When this word is used in the US to mean “elementarytextbook” it is pronounced with a short “I”:“primmer” (rhymes with “dimmer” ). All othermeanings are pronounced with a long “I": “prymer”(rhymes ...

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primevil vs primeval

The existence of a music group and a comic book using the deliberately punning misspelling “Primevil” helps to further confusion about this word. Something ancient and primitive is “primeval.” The ...

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principal vs principle

Generations of teachers have tried to drill this one into students’ heads by reminding them, “The principal is your pal.” Many don’t seem convinced. “Principal” is a noun and adjective referring to...

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priority

It is common to proclaim “in our business, customer service is a priority,” but it would be better to say “a high priority,” since priorities can also be low.

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probably

The two Bs in this word are particularly difficult to pronounce in sequence, so the word often comes out as “probly” and is even occasionally misspelled that way. When even the last B disappears, t...

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prodigy vs progeny vs protégé

Your progeny are your kids, though it would be pretty pretentious to refer to them as such. If your child is a brilliantly outstanding person he or she may be a child prodigy. In fact, anything ama...

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program vs programme

“Program” is the spelling for all uses in the US; but in the UK the spelling “programme” is used for broadcasts and schedules of various kinds (musical programme, programme of studies, theatre prog...

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prone vs supine

“Prone” (face down) is often confused with “supine” (face up). Some people use the phrase “soup in navel” to help them remember the meaning of the latter word. “Prostrate” technically also means “f...

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prophecy vs prophesy

“Prophecy,” the noun, (pronounced “PROF-a-see”) is a prediction. The verb “to prophesy” (pronounced “PROF-a-sigh”) means to predict something. When a prophet prophesies he or she utters prophecies....

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prosperity vs posterity

Your descendants—those who come after you—are posterity. Your posterior comes behind your front, right? Your posterity comes along behind you in time. In contrast, prosperity is financial well-bein...

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protray vs portray

There are a lot of words in English that begin in “pro-.” This is not one of them. When you make a portrait, you portray someone.

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proved vs proven

For most purposes either form is a fine past participle of “prove,” though ina phrase like “a proven talent” where the word is an adjective precedinga noun, “proven” is standard.

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pss vs pps

<p>PPS is an abbreviation for 'post-postscript' used in letters and memos. It means what comes after the writing. </p><pre>"PPS: Do not forget to buy the shoes I asked for!"</pre><p>PSS is a wrong ...

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pundint vs pundit

“Pundit” is one of those words we get from India, like “bungalow” and “thug.” It comes from pandit, meaning “scholar,” “learned person.” The first premier of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was often refe...

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purposely vs purposefully

Purposely means deliberately while purposefully means in a determined way. The police purposely let the small fish get away so that they could purposefully go after the kingpins.

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please rsvp vs please reply

RSVP stands for the French phrase Répondez s’il vous plaît (“reply, please”), so it doesn’t need an added “please.” However, since few people seem to know its literal meaning, and fewer still take ...

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