A Desk-Book of Errors in English/P

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A Desk-Book of Errors in English by Frank Horace Vizetelly
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Contents: IntroductionA B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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pack: A word sometimes misapplied especially in speaking of a number of persons; as, "the whole pack." It is correctly used when applied to dogs or wolves, hence, from the latter application, also to any band of men leagued together for evil purposes; as, "a pack of thieves ": sometimes, also, correctly styled a gang.

pain. Compare pane.

pair: Great care should be exercised in applying modifying adjectives to this word. Thus one may say "a new pair of trousers;" "a new pair of scissors;" but not "a new pair of shoes." There is a distinction in the use—"a new pair" as applied to gloves or shoes implies exchange of one pair for another; here, "a different pair" would be preferred. In general, say, rather, "a pair of new shoes"; "a pair of new gloves." This word remains pair in the plural when it is preceded by a number: otherwise it takes the s. "Two pair of gloves," but "many pairs of trousers."

pane: Sometimes confused with pain. The first designates "a piece, division or compartment, most commonly a plate of window glass"; the second denotes "a distressing or disagreeable emotion." The spellings of the two words should never be confused, but occasionally are.

pants: A vulgarism or tailor's cant for pantaloons meaning trousers which should be the word used by preference.

paradox: Commonly used incorrectly in the phrase "a seeming paradox,"—a thing that does not exist, a paradox being a statement that seems to be at variance with common sense. A statement may, however, be characterized as paradoxical.

paraphernalia, from the Greek para, beyond, + phero, bring, is properly applied to the personal articles, as jewelry, reserved to a wife over and above her dower or marriage portion, and should not be used in the sense of finery or regalia. Yet the application is common but savors of grandiloquence. The finery and regalia are not, or should not be, "over and above," but should be as of right or of good taste. Compare over and above.

pare, pair: Words the spellings of which are sometimes confused. Pare, to remove the outer covering from is from the Latin paro and means "prepare"; pair, designating two persons or things, is from the Latin par, which means "equal." See pair.

parenthesis: The phrase in parenthesis includes both signs, and an expression placed between these signs is therefore said to be "in parenthesis." Parentheses refers only to two or more sets of parenthetical expressions. Due care should be exercised in using this word.

parson: Although a good word used to designate "the clergyman of a parish," parson is often used contemptuously, and from this use has acquired a sense that detracts from the dignity of the ofiice; therefore, is one to be avoided. Do not say "Our parson is a popular man"; say, rather, "Our minister . . ."

partake should never be used as a synonym for "eat" or "drink." One may partake of a meal with other persons, that is, share it with them, but one does not partake a meal by one's self.

partially should not be used for "partly," as, having the meaning "with unjust favoritism," it may be misunderstood.

party, person: Except in legal terminology, person is preferable; party means, in general, an entertainment. In the legal sense, party is a person (or body of persons collectively) who (or which) takes a certain specified part in a legal transaction, as "A. B., the party of the first part." From this application of the term, the word has been loosely extended to mean person. Do not say "A certain party, etc., but "A certain person"; party in such a connection is a vulgarism.

pathos. Compare bathos.

patrons should not be used for "customers." A patron is one who fosters a person or thing; a customer is one who deals regularly at one establishment.

peach: Used in the sense of "beauty," possibly from the delicate and downy skin of the fruit, is a playful though undesirable expression used commonly by young men and boys, especially in referring to women; as, "Isn't she a peach!" Lexicographers do not recognize this usage of the word.

peculiarly impressive: A phrase heard sometimes for "singularly" or "strikingly impressive"; but the word is from the Latin peculiaris, "one's own," and it is in this respect that the individuality enters the case. What belongs exclusively to a person is peculiarly his; and the sense of remarkable, as from singularity, intensity, or exceptionality, is better expressed by the word of this class best adapted to the case.

pecuniary. Compare financial.

peel should not be confused with peal. The first designates "rind"; the second, "ring."

pell-mell: This word etymologically implies a crowd and confusion and is not applied to an individual. Thus, "He rushed out pell-mell" should be "He rushed out hastily and excitedly."

penny: In the plural this word is either pennies or pence. In the one case it means a number of individual coins; in the second case it signifies a specific sum of money.

people: Where individual persons, or a number of such, are intended, this word should be discarded in favor of persons; as, "most persons are of this opinion." People means persons collectively; as "People say."

per: This is a Latin preposition, correctly joined only with Latin words; as, per centum, abbreviated per cent.; per diem; per annum. Per head and per person, per year, per day are common commercial locutions; use preferably the English forms a head, a person, a year, a day. If you must use a Latin phrase be sure you use all Latin.

perfectly killing: An inane expression used commonly by women for "in stylish attire," and also, intensely comic" or "absurd.'" Compare splendid.

perform does not mean play. One performs music on a piano or plays the piano, but does not perform the piano. To perform on the piano would rather indicate "to strum" upon it or (if you like) play upon or play with it than to play it.

perform. Compare assume.

permit. Compare allow.

perpetually; Distinguish from continually. There is a difference between that which is done unceasingly and that which merely takes place constantly.

person. Compare party.

personalty is sometimes considered to mean articles of personal adornment. It does not. It is a legal term, now in contradistinction to realty, and includes therefore all movables, as money; personal property of any kind whatever, as household goods; chattels real and personal; things movable as distinguished from realty or landed property in any form.

persons. Compare people.

perspicacity, perspicuity : Terms often confused. Perspicacity is "acuteness, clear-sightedness or penetration"; perspicuity is "clearness of expression or style, lucidity"; and is applied to speech and writing.

persuade, convince: That which persuades, leads or attracts (Latin suadeo, advise), that which convinces, binds (Latin vinco, conquer). A person when convinced that he is wrong is persuaded, by justice or interest, to amend his ways.

peruse should not be used when the simple read is meant. The former implies to read with care and attention and is almost synonymous with scan, which is to examine with critical care and in detail. A person is more likely to read than to scan or peruse the Bible.

petition, partition: Sometimes pronounced as if they were homophones, but they are not. Exercise care in their use. A petition is a request, a partition is that which separates anything into distinct parts.

phenomenon is the singular of phenomena, and the distinction should be observed in speech. Avoid as incorrect such locution as "A remarkable phenomena."

piece, a: A provincial vulgarism used in such phrases as "We went along the road a piece"; "he followed me a piece," etc.

pike A vulgarism used as a verb for "to move away rapidly," and as a noun, contemptuously, for "a shiftless class of persons."

pillar, pillow: Discriminate carefully between these words. A pillar is a firm, upright, separate support; a pillow is a head-rest. Note the difference in the spellings.

pile-in: Slang for "get to work."

pipe-off: A vulgarism for to "take in at a glance."

pity, sympathy: Not synonymous terms. Pity awakens a feeling of grief or sorrow in one for the distress of another; sympathy is a feeling kindred with that of another for his state or condition. Sympathy implies a degree of equality which pity does not. We may pity one whom we disdain but we can not sympathize with him.

place: Used objectively without a preposition, or even adverbially, a provincialism common in parts of the United States; as, "She is always wanting to go places"; "Can't I go any place (correctly anywhere)?" "I must go some place (somewhere)"; "I can't find it any place." Such forms are solecisms.

place, plaice: Homophones, so care should be exercised in their use and spelling. A place is a particular point or portion of space; a plaice is a fish.

plank: Used usually with "down" this term is commonly employed by persons careless of their diction for "pay out" or "lay down": said especially of money, and a term to be avoided.

plead, pleaded or pled, pleading: The spelling of pled for the past is not warranted, and is a colloquialism. Careful speakers use pleaded.

pleasure is distinguished from happiness, although in common conversation the terms are frequently used as if they were synonymous. "By happiness," says Hamilton, "is meant the complement of all the pleasures of which we are susceptible." Crabb says, "Happiness comprehends that aggregate of pleasurable sensations which we derive from external objects": it is "a condition in which pleasure predominates over pain or evil; a continued experience of pleasures and joys." "Pleasure is the accompaniment of the moderate and suitable activity of some organ or faculty of the mind."

plentiful. Compare bountiful.

plenty: The colloquialism by which plenty, which is a noun, is treated as an adjective or adverb is altogether inadmissible. In such cases plentiful and plentifully should be used. "We have plenty of money." "Cash is plentiful." "We are plentifully supplied"—not "We have plenty enough cash."

plunk: A vulgarism for a silver dollar.

polite, civil, polished: Civil, from the Latin civilis from civis, a citizen, denotes that which is becoming to a citizen. Polite is the Latin politus, participle of polio, polish. Civility is therefore negative, the mere absence of rudeness, whereas politeness is the positive evidence of good breeding. A polite man is naturally so, but a polished man is one who has, by art, acquired the smoothness which comes of having had the rough edges rubbed off. Polite denotes a quality; polished denotes a state.

politics is a singular word of plural form. "His hobby is politics"—not "Politics are his hobby."

polity and policy both come from the Latin politica, (Gr. politeia, polity, polis, city); but they must not be confounded. "Polity is the permanent system of government of a state, a church, or a society; policy is the method of management with reference to the attainment of certain ends. The national polity of the United States is republican; each administration has a policy of its own."

pore: Compare pour.

possessive case, the: A very unnecessary difficulty appears to be felt, even by educated men, in the use of the apostrophe in the possessive case. It is placed immediately after the noun under consideration. If, for instance, you are talking of a lady and refer to her glove, you say "the lady's glove"—then the apostrophe, should immediately follow the noun in question; viz., lady, in the singular. If, however, there are two ladies or more, you say "the ladies' gloves," and the apostrophe should follow ladies; that is, lady, in the plural. In like manner, you write "the boy's father," or "the boys' father," when referring to one or to two or more boys, respectively. "The man's hat," "the men's hats," with the apostrophe following the noun man or men, will note the possessive in the singular and plural for the noun man.

The nearest approach to a difficulty is where a plural ends with an "s" or a sibilant sound; but here the rule is still the same—place the apostrophe after the noun referred to, that is, the plural, though for the sake of smoothness and euphony, omit the succeeding (or rather non-succeeding) "s." Thus, "the boss's desk" in the singular, "the bosses’ desks," in the plural. When the singular ends in "s," the possessive "s" is usually retained, excepting where the noun has three or more syllables and the word following commences with this letter. Thus, Charles's uncle; Burns's poems; Burns's stanza; Damocles' sword. The possessive "s" is also generally omitted before "sake"—as, "For conscience’ sake' (conscience having the "s" sound); "for Jesus' sake."

In speaking of a firm, where the partners constitute but one object of contemplation, the apostrophe is used but once—after the complete object of contemplation, that is, after the title or firm name; as, "Jones and Robinson's store." If Jones and Robinson, instead of being in partnership had independent businesses you would speak of "Jones's and Robinson's stores"—this being no exception to, but merely an exemplification of, the rule that the apostrophe immediately follows the noun or name (or firm name) under consideration.

Occasionally, the possessive appears in double form, the substantive being preceded by of and followed by the apostrophe with s. This occurs, however, only in idiomatic phrases,as, "He was a friend of my father's," which is equivalent to "He was one of my father's friends" or "He was a friend of (the number of) my father's (friends)," when it may be supposed that the person spoken of possesses more than one object of the kind referred to, this double form of possessive is properly used. "It was a fault of my friend to be loquacious" would signify the one particular weakness of my friend: "It was a fault of my friend's to be loquacious," that is, "of my friend's faults," would signify that this was one of various faults.

The apostrophe is not used with the possessive personal pronouns. Write "yours (not your's) truly." Compare 's.

post: A colloquialism, generally undesirable, for inform. It is derived from the bookkeeping signification of the term, where it means that the ledger is supplied, by transfer, with the information contained in the books of original entry.

pour, pore: Exercise care in using these homophones. The first is of Celtic origin and means "to cause to flow, as a liquid, in a continuous stream"; whereas pore is from the Middle English poren, and means "to gaze or ponder with close and continued application, as in reading or studying."

power: In the sense of "a great number or quantity," this word is an undesirable colloquialism that has gained ground especially in rural districts. One may say of a man "He was a power among the people," but not "A power of people heard him."

practical: Do not confound with practicable. The former means "that can be put into practise or rendered applicable for use; as, practical knowledge"; whereas the latter is perhaps best expressed by the synonym "feasible." Practical has a general application, being governed by actual use and experience; as, practical statesmanship or wisdom: practicable, on the contrary, is particular, and signifies the suitability of the particular thing named to the desired end. Thus one may know a practical man but not a practicable one.

pray, prey: Exercise care in using these homophones. Etymologically they are distinct. Pray is from Old French praier, to ask; while prey is from Old French preier, booty, probably from the Latin prœhendo, to seize. Note the difference in spelling.

precedent, president: Although almost homophones these terms have widely different meanings. A precedent is something that has occurred before in time and is considered as an established rule or an authorized example; a president is the head of a nation, society, or the like.

predicate, predict: Though these words are both derived from the same Latin source, the one must not be used for the other. To predict is to foretell, whereas to predicate is to proclaim as inherent. In United States usage predicate, with on or upon, is sometimes treated as synonymous with establish; as, "On what do you predicate the assertion?"

prefer: The act or thing preferred should never be followed by than. Prefer is properly followed by the preposition to, or occasionally by above or before. Thus do not say "I prefer to talk than to dance," but "I prefer talking to dancing."

preferable: If the preference is stated in terms, as "This is preferable to that," the word is followed by the preposition to — never by than. The perference may, however, be implied; as, "This is preferable.

prejudice: Sometimes erroneously used for "prepossess" or "predispose." A prepossession is always favorable, a prejudice always unfavorable, unless the contrary is expressly stated. Predispose means "to dispose or incline beforehand." Therefore, we should not say that a person is prejudiced in any one's favor but that he is prepossessed or predisposed.

preposition: "The part of speech or particle that denotes the relation of an object to an action or thing; so called because it is usually placed before its object." The correct use of these little words is often puzzling to persons of education. For the purpose of their guidance the following partial list is given. A comprehensive work on the subject of their correct use is "English Synonyms, Antonyms and Prepositions," by Dr. James C. Fernald.

accord with (neuter)

accord to (active)

accused of crime

acquit persons of

adapted to or between

adapted to a thing for a purpose

affinity to or between

agreeable to

agree with persons, to things, among ourselves

amuse with, at, in

angry with (a person) at (a thing)

anxious for, about, sometimes on

attend to (listen)

attend upon (wait)

averse from, when describing an act or state.

averse to, when describing feeling

bestow upon

boast of

call on

change for

compliance with

confer on (give), with (converse)

confide in, when intransitive

confide it to, when transitive

conform to conformable to

consonant to, sometimes with

convenient to or for

conversant with persons; in or of affairs; about subjects

correspond with (by letter), to (similar things)

dependent on, upon

derogate from

derogatory to a person or thing

die of or by

differ from or with

difference with a person

difference between things

difficulty in

diminution of

disappointed of a purpose; and in a matter if it fails to meet our expectations.

disapprove of

discouragement to

dissent from

distinguished for, from, sometimes by

eager in

entertain by (a person), with (a thing)

exception is taken to statements; sometimes against

expert at or in

fall under

free from

frightened at

glad of something gained, and of or at what befalls another

grieve at, for

independent of

insist upon

made of, for, from, with

marry to

martyr for a cause, to a disease.

need of

notice of

observance of

prejudiced against

prejudicial to

profit by

provide for

reconcile to

recreant to, from

reduce to a state; under subjection

regard to or for

replete with

resemblance to

resolve on

respect for

smile at, upon

swerve from

taste of what is actually enjoyed; for what we have the capacity of enjoying.

think of or on

thirst for, after

true of (predicable)

true to (faithful)

wait on (serve), at (a place), for (await)

worthy of


present is to be distinguished from introduce. Introduction takes place among equals, but a presentation takes place by act of grace. Then the favored person is brought into the presence of some superior or other persons, be it lady or celebrity, who is graciously pleased to grant the privilege, which however does not permit the subsequent familiarity of an introduction. A man may be presented at court or to a reigning beauty, but he is merely introduced to the man who may afterwards become a college chum.

pretend is so commonly used in a bad sense that it becomes improper to use it (even in the sense of claim) for profess; for a profession is made only of what one is happy or proud to profess. Therefore say, "I profess (not I pretend to) skill in surgery."

pretty as an adverb may properly be used to signify moderately, tolerably, fairly, somewhat (extensively), but the expression lacks elegance and definitiveness, as is shown by the following sentence: "He is a pretty sick man, but is pretty sure to recover, being at all times pretty fortunate."

prevail: In the sense of "triumph," this word is usually followed by the prepositions over or against; as, "We have prevailed over our enemies"; "None can prevail against us." In the sense of "to have effectual influence," follow it with on, upon or with; as, "He prevailed on me to go." In the sense "to have general vogue, currency or acceptance," it should be followed by through or throughout; as, "Mohammedanism prevails throughout Northern Africa."

preventive is preferable to preventative, which is a corruption of the former, has been described as a "barbarism," and is said to stamp any one using it as lacking in common education.

previous: In higher literature, the adverbial use of previous with to, in the sense of "prior to" is not favored. The adverb previously or the expression prior to is preferred.

prey. Compare pray.

principle, principal: Exercise care in the use of these homophones. Principle is a source or cause from which a thing proceeds: principal, first or highest in rank. Note the difference in spelling.

profess. Compare pretend.

promise should never be used for "assure." A promise always implies futurity. Do not say "He was alarmed, I promise you;" say, rather, "I assure you."

pronouns in the objective: Often the coupling of one pronoun with another leads a careless speaker into error, where had one pronoun only been used, no doubt or difficulty would have been experienced. "If he calls for (you and) I, we will go." If the words in parenthesis be omitted no one would think of saying "for I," but would naturally use the correct pronoun me. This method of elision will generally elucidate the correct usage. "To talk like that before (you and) I was atrocious." Say me, as you certainly would if you omitted the words in parenthesis.

prophecy, prophesy: Discriminate carefully between these words. A prophecy is a prediction, the foretelling of an event; to prophesy is to predict, or foretell an event. Note the difference in spelling.

proposal, as distinguished from proposition, refers to the difference in treatment of the matter at issue. The one invites a plain "yes" or "no," whereas the other suggests consideration or debate. A proposal of marriage usually anticipates an immediate reply, whereas a proposition for partnership involves reflection and discussion of terms.

propose, purpose: Words often used incorrectly. To propose is to offer; to purpose is to intend. One proposes to a young lady if one's purpose is to marry her. Compare contemplate.

proven: An irregular form of the past participle of prove used correctly only in courts of law. The word should be restricted to the Scotch verdict of "not proven," which signifies of a charge that it has neither been proved nor disproved. The modern pernicious tendency among reporters is to use proven instead of proved.

providing, provided: The first of these words, which is not a conjunction, is sometimes improperly used for provided, which is. Say, "You may go, provided (not providing) the weather be fine."

provoke. Compare aggravate.

pull used to designate "influence" is a vulgarism of the street and the political arena that should be discountenanced. "Influence" is a better word.

pupil. Compare scholar.

push, the whole: A vulgar phrase used to designate all the persons that form a party: an Anglicism. In English slang "push" is used for "crowd" probably from the proverbial restlessness and crushing in which English crowds usually indulge.

put: For run or ran; as, "You ought to have seen him put"; "Then he put (sometimes, put out) for home": an archaic usage now appearing as a colloquial Americanism. Stay put in the sense of "remain where (or as) placed" is also an Americanism, never used (unless playfully) by correct speakers.