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Category: English (page 2 of 3)

What is the correct way of writing et al.?

The Latin abbreviation et al. is short for et alia (et aliae, et alii), meaning and others (alia is masculine plural, aliae is feminine plural and alii neuter plural).

When referring to literature, the abbreviation is used to replace author or editor names when there are more than two (in some cases more than three) authors or editors:

Simon et al. (2000) showed the importance of R&D for production.
This has been pointed out in previous research (e.g., Eriksson et al., 2016; Palm et al., 2016; Platts et al., 1996).

Make sure you put the full stop in the right place! The word et is not abbreviated but alia is, so the full stop must be after al.

When you write et al., the verb must of course have its plural form:
Simon et al. (2000) have pointed out that …

In the possessive form, et al. is followed by an apostrophe and an s:
Simon et al.’s (2000) contribution to research …

Latin words are sometimes italicised in English text, but abbreviations should not be in italics, unless the publisher requires it.

You will find some common Latin abbreviations in English here.

Use e.g. and i.e. correctly!

These two are abbreviations of Latin words.

e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means for example.
Use e.g. when you want to list one or more examples of something you have mentioned.

Our products are sold in several European countries, e.g. France, Germany, Italy and Greece.

Since you want to give examples, don’t write a complete list.

i.e. stands for id est, which is Latin for that is or in other words.
Use i.e. to clarify or explain something.

I am a linguist, i.e. I study languages.

In writing, e.g. and i.e. are lowercase. There should be a full stop after each letter, and the abbreviations should be preceded by a comma. In American English there should also be a comma after the abbreviation; British English usually does not have this comma. Instead of a comma before the abbreviation you can have a dash.

Latin words are often italicized in English texts, but when abbreviated they should be written in normal font.

The two abbreviations can, of course, be written out in full: for example and that is or that is to say. You should avoid beginning a sentence with an abbreviation.

To sum up, e.g. opens up some possibilities, i.e. narrows them down.

You will find more Latin abbreviations in English here.

Continuous or continual?

Continual and continuous (and the adverbs continually and continuously) come from the verb continue but there is a difference between them.


Continuous means that something is going on without interruption, non-stop.
The continuous humming from the fridge made me crazy. (A continual humming would be worrying: Why does it stop, start again, stop, then start again …?)


Continual implies that something often happens with intervals, comes and goes.
Being a typical teenager she had continual quarrels with her parents about homecoming rules. (Both she and her parents should be happy that the quarrels were not continuous.)

As with many other word pairs you may find that some writers don’t make a distinction between these two words. As a good English writer you know the difference, of course.

It rained continuously for three hours…

Mind your p’s and q’s – Accent and apostrophe

Writers sometimes do not distinguish between an accent and an apostrophe.


Acute accent

An accent is a diacritic, a sign added to a letter. When you type a diacritic on the keyboard, the cursor does not move on and so the diacritic is added above (or in other cases below, by the side of or even inside) the letter. Examples of other diacritics are the circumflex ( ^ ), the umlaut ( ¨ ) and the tilde ( ~ ).

(Some Swedish words with diacritics have come into the English language, such as ångström, glögg, smörgåsbord and surströmming.)

English has two two accents, the acute accent ( ´ ) and the grave accent ( ` ).

The acute accent in English is used in loanwords such as apéritif, café, cliché, décor, fiancé and fiancée. In some very rare cases an acute accent is added to a loanword that lacks the accent to show that the last vowel of the word is pronounced: The Italian word latte (milk) is sometimes written latté (or lattè) in English.

The grave accent is rare in English and – like the acute accent – mainly used in foreign words: vis-à-vis, à la carte, ampère, manège, première.

Generally, English writers do not use diacritics even in loanwords – in fact, English keyboards do not have any accent marks. The Swedish words mentioned above are usually written as angstrom, smorgasbord, etc. There are, however, a few words in which the accent marks a difference between an English word and a loanword:

exposé (film or newspaper article revealing shocking facts about somebody) – expose (show, reveal, give experience)

résumé (short text giving the main points) – resume (start doing something again)

rosé (pink wine) – rose (a flower; pink colour)


The apostrophe is a punctuation mark. In English it has several uses:

It marks omission of one or more letters:
Don’t be late (Do not)! I’d prefer a smaller one (I would).

It marks the possessive case:
Have you seen my brother’s car?
There is no apostrophe in his, hers, its, ours, yours and theirs.

In the plural there is no s after the apostrophe:
Have you seen my brothers’ cars?

It marks plurals of single letters
Mind your p’s and q’s (Mind your manners; be careful about what you say or do).

In plurals of abbreviations and acronyms there is usually no apostrophe:
If there are full stops in an abbreviation, you can include the apostrophe for clarity: Ph.D.’s.

Most style guides leave out the apostrophe in the plural form of decades:
They made their first record in the 1960s.
You can write an apostrophe before the decade when it is abbreviated:
Those born in the ’90s.

The apostrophe represents thousand:
30’ (= 30 000)

The apostrophe is also used as a quotation mark. British English prefers single quotation marks, while American English has double quotation marks ( ).

To sum up, you can do very well without the accent in English and only need to worry about the apostrophe. Remember to mind your p’s and q’s; skip the accent and put the apostrophe in the right place!

Dictionaries of words, synonyms and collocations – a comparison

We will examine how different types of dictionaries treat the same word.

A monolingual dictionary gives explanations in simple English:

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

You can read more about dictionaries here.

A dictionary of synonyms suggests alternative words:

Collins English Thesaurus

More about dictionaries of synonyms can be found here.

A dictionary of collocations shows how a word can be combined with other words and parts of speech:

Oxford Collocations Dictionary

Read more about dictionaries of collocations here.

Finally, a thesaurus is built on concepts and ideas and will give you lots and lots of closely and more remotely related words and expressions:

Roget’s Thesaurus

A thesaurus gives you ample opportunity to vary your text, but you need to understand nuances in meaning. Under Vb. (Verb) we find neutral phrases such as be in charge and have overall responsibility but also expressions from working life such as take the helm (of a ship), take the chair (lead a meeting) and hold the reins (of a horse). We also find more informal phrases such as wear the trousers, which implies someone who is in control and makes decisions. You would not use that expression in a serious text about the CEO of a company!

Read more about thesauri here.


You are an expert in your field, but there will be times when you need to look up a word to make sure your English is correct.

The first resource that comes to mind if you are a non-native English writer is a bilingual dictionary. You use a German–English, an Italian–English, a Swedish–English, etc. dictionary. There are general wordbooks, but you may need a specialised dictionary. For Swedish writers the standard work is Ingvar E. Gullberg: Svensk–engelsk fackordbok för näringsliv, förvaltning, undervisning och forskning [A Swedish–English dictionary of technical terms used in business, industry, administration, education and research] (Norstedts, 2000). With over 200 000 headwords it is the largest specialised dictionary in Sweden. It is also available as internet subscription from at SEK 29/month.

There are, of course, also dictionaries dealing with vocabulary in specific fields of interest such as architecture, economics, medicine, slang, technology, etc.

Monolingual dictionaries, in our case completely in English, give you helpful explanations of words. They are usually intended for non-native users of English and therefore the explanations are simple and easy to understand. Use them to check that a word you have chosen really has the meaning you intended. Here is an example from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

Examples of such dictionaries are:

Cambridge International Dictionary of English
Collins English Dictionary
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
Oxford Dictionary of English

You can get printed dictionaries in your bookstore or at, e.g., Amazon, Bokus or Adlibris.

Printed dictionaries are expensive and are not regularly updated. You can find many useful resources on the internet. The dictionaries mentioned above are available online. The following are some other internet sites for your word search:

What if you cannot find a translation of the word you want to use? Ask an expert! Once when I had to translate a word that I could not find in any dictionary, I called the Swedish Coast Guard and asked how they said the word in English. Of course they could help me.

Read about different types of dictionaries here.

Amount and number

A number of students were subjected to various freshman pranks by the lake

You need to understand the difference between amount and number.

There are things we can count and things we cannot count. With countable nouns we use number of and with uncountable nouns amount of. We can talk about the amount of time we work or about the number of hours we work.

A large number of cars had stopped behind the lorry.
We were impressed by the number of spectators.
She only drank a small amount of water.
I hadn’t expected that amount of work.

We can also use plural forms:
He drank vast amounts of beer.
Here you will find statistics related to numbers of taxpayers and registered traders.

With amount we say how much of something is present.
With number we talk about how many there are.

Notice how the verb form changes:

The number of students has increased every year since 2015.
The verb is in the singular because the main subject here is number. The word students could be replaced by another word like cars, newspapers, attacks, etc.

A number of students have published a campus journal.
The verb is in the plural because the main subject is students. A number of can be replaced by, for example, some.

To sum up:
The number of … has the singular form of the verb.
A number of … has the plural form of the verb.

Both amount and number can also be used as verbs:
How much did it amount to?
Number the parts from 1–10 according to how you rate their functionality.

Organize or organise?

Against popular belief, the spelling -ize in the word organize was first used in England in the 1400s, centuries before the Pilgrim Fathers landed in America. Nowadays this spelling is considered American, while British English has the form with -ise.

That last statement is not completely true. The so-called Oxford spelling uses the z, which you can read about here.

The spelling with a z agrees with the original root -izo in Greek words. Other English words come from Greek words with an s in their root. Such English words therefore have an s. This applies to words spelled with a y, like analyse, catalyse, dialyse and paralyse. However, you will find many instances of the spelling -yze in American English.

Some verbs must be spelled -ise in both American and British English. Again, even if we state that -ise is the correct spelling of these words, Americans use -ize in some of them.

You should always spell the following verbs with -ise:


Regardless and irrespective of

To have regard for means to respect, pay attention to. If you are regardless, you do something despite everything; you do it anyway, nevertheless. Regardless also means not taking into account.

We’ll go fishing, regardless of the weather.
Regardless of the time of day, he would promptly come to help me.
Regardless of the threat, they went on.

Another way of expressing that something is not affected by something else is to use irrespective of.

This applies to all students, irrespective of nationality.
We came to the same result, irrespective of what method we used.
Irrespective of whether a text is long or short, it needs copyediting.

The meaning of not being affected by something may lead Swedish writers to use the word independent (Swedish oberoende) in sentences like the ones above. However, independent means separate, unrelated, autonomous or self-sufficient. Use irrespective of instead.

Regarding regards

The phrase *in regards to (with a plural -s) seems to appear frequently. Even if it is common in texts by both native and non-native English writers, it is not correct.

When you want to refer to something, you can write in regard to or with regard to. Both phrases mean concerning. However, you have other alternatives:

in this regard
as regards
in respect of
with respect to
with reference to
relating to
on the subject of
in connection with
as for

The verb regard can also mean look at, have or show respect for, think of with a particular feeling. The corresponding noun is used in phrases like the following:

I have great regard for his work.
Give my regards to your family.
Best regards.

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