Style Guide I – P


I (as in you and I)

The rule around the use of x and I in expressions like ‘you and I’, ‘Freddie and I’ etc is widely misunderstood, with many people believing incorrectly that saying or writing things like ‘you and me’ and ‘Freddie and me’ is poor use of English.

It depends how you are using them in a sentence. I is the subject in a sentence and controls the verb; me is the object in a sentence. In the sentences below, the pronoun I is the subject and controls the verb — I am the one doing the rehearsing. In the second example, I am joined by Freddie: we are the subject in the sentence, the ones doing the rehearsing.

I rehearsed the song.

Freddie and I rehearsed the song.

In the examples below, Brian is the subject of the sentence — he is the one doing the joining. I am now the object in the sentence and so I becomes me. In the second example, Brian is still the subject that controls the verb, the one doing the joining.

Brian joined me. [You wouldn’t say ‘Brian joined I’]

Brian joined Freddie and me. [You wouldn’t say ‘Brian joined I’, so it would also be incorrect to say ‘Brian joined Freddie and I’]

imply/infer

imply means ‘to suggest or hint at something’; infer means ‘to deduce something’. The author implies something in their writing; the reader infers something.

inchoate

means ‘just begun and so not fully formed or developed’ and does not mean ‘chaotic’.

incidence/incident

incidence means ‘rate, frequency’ and is different from incident, meaning ‘an event’ — as the Guardian says, you can have a high incidence of incidents.

insidious/invidious

insidious means ‘gradually and subtly causing harm’; invidious means ‘likely to cause resentment’ — hence, someone may be placed in an invidious position.

insure/ensure

insure against risk (and assure life); ensure means ‘make sure’.

interpreter/translator

An interpreter works with the spoken word; a translator works with the written word.

into/in to

Use into when physical movement is implied; otherwise, it’s probably in to.

I am logging in to the website.

I am going into my house.

I placed the item into the bag.

iridescent

not ‘irridescent’.

judgement/judgment

Use judgement (moral, academic etc) and judgment (legal decisions only)

just deserts

not ‘just desserts’. See under D.

leach/leech

leach is a verb meaning ‘to drain away’; leech is a noun, referring to bloodsucking worms and, figuratively, to greedy bankers etc.

luxuriant/luxurious

luxuriant means ‘lush’ or ‘rich in growth’ as in a luxuriant head of hair; luxurious, from luxury, means ‘expensive’.

less/fewer

Use fewer with countable nouns; use less with uncountable nouns. The exception is when talking about time and distance. They can be counted but use less anyway.

I have fewer notes in my pocket than when I came in.

I have less money in my pocket than when I came in.

It’s coming up in less than three weeks.

It’s less than three miles away.

millennium

but Christians awaiting the thousand-year age of blessedness are millenarians.

mimic

but mimicked, mimicking.

minuscule

not ‘miniscule’.

money-grubbing

but money-grabbing is listed as an alternative by Lexico, who collaborate with OUP — so who am I to argue?

moot point

or moot — not ‘mute’ — meaning ‘open to debate, undecided’ from the old moot courts.

naught/nought

naught means ‘nothing’; nought is the number ‘0’.

nemesis

an agent of retribution or of one’s downfall, not just an enemy.

noisome

means ‘foul-smelling’ and has nothing to do with noise.

only

Put only as close as possible to the word it qualifies. These two sentences have different meanings:

He only drinks in the pub. [This suggests he does nothing else in the pub]

He drinks only in the pub. [This suggests he doesn’t drink anywhere else]

ordinance/ordnance

ordinance is a decree; ordnance is artillery. According to the Guardian, Britain’s national mapping agency is Ordnance Survey because “such work was originally undertaken by the army”.

over/more than

The general rule is to use more than with quantities and over with spatial relationships.

There were more than 5,000 people at the concert.

palate/palette/pallet

The palate is the roof of the mouth or sense of taste; an artist uses a palette to mix paints but (somewhat confusingly) a pallet knife in their work.

panjandrum

a person who has or claims to have a great deal of authority or influence. The Guardian style guide defines it as ‘a pretentious or self-important person in authority’.

pedal/peddle

pedal (noun and verb) is to do with bicycles; peddle means ‘to try and sell things’ (lies can also be peddled) and is done by a pedlar.

percentages

Something that increases from 10% to 20% has increased by 10 percentage points, not by 10 per cent. It has actually doubled so it has gone up by 100%.

peremptory/perfunctory

peremptory means ‘final, not open to challenge’; instructions can be delivered in a peremptory manner, meaning that the speaker just expects you to get on with it.

perfunctory means ‘careless, done with little interest’ as in a perfunctory check of the details.

prevaricate/procrastinate

prevaricate means ‘to be evasive’; procrastinate means ‘to delay’.

practical/practicable

practical has a number of meanings and uses, one of which is ‘capable of being put to good use’, which is basically what practicable means. Use practical in the sense of ‘useful’ and practicable in the sense of ‘feasible, doable, able to be put into practice’, as in plans, actions etc.

This tool has many practical applications.

The government’s measures seemed practicable.

practice/practise

practice is a noun; practise is a verb. The words advice and advise work in the same way.

Freddie joined the others at band practice.

Brian practised the new songs.

precipitate/precipitous

precipitate (as an adjective) means ‘sudden, without thinking’; precipitous means ‘steep’.

prescribe/proscribe

prescribe is what doctors do; proscribe means ‘to ban something’, often used in relation to the actions of authoritarian regimes.

pretext

A pretext is a reason given for a course of action that is not the real reason, so to describe something as a ‘false pretext’ would be a tautology (saying the same thing twice).

prevaricate

prevaricate means ‘to speak or act in an evasive way’ and is often confused with procrastinate, which means ‘to put off doing something’. There is also equivocate, which means ‘using ambiguous language to avoid speaking directly’.

principal/principle

principal means ‘first in importance’ and is used as the title of the head of some schools and colleges; a principle is a rule, belief or fundamental proposition.

prodigal

prodigal means ‘to be reckless with money’; it doesn’t mean returning home or being welcomed back without recrimination.

program

Use program only in relation to computers; everything else is programme.

publicly

not ‘publically’.

purposely/purposefully

purposely means ‘on purpose’; purposefully means ‘with determination’.

put/putt

put the shot in athletics; putt the ball in golf.