Your professional help to improve your written English

Page 3 of 4

Dictionaries of synonyms

Courtesy of Missoula Public Library

A synonym is a word with the same or almost the same meaning as another word. Occur is a synonym for happen; generally and usually are synonyms and so are big, large and great. An antonym is the opposite of a synonym.

Synonyms are useful for creating variation in a text. Instead of writing nice several times, you can use pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, delightful, charming, etc.

Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms

You must understand that there are nuances; one synonym may have a slightly different meaning than another and there may also be differences in usage. You can read more about this soon in a blog post I intend to write about large, big and great.

Before you decide to use a certain synonym you must be sure (1) that the word you choose has the meaning you intend and (2) that it is used in a correct way.

Examples of printed dictionaries of synonyms are
Collins English Thesaurus
Longman Synonym Dictionary
Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms

You can get them from your bookshop or, e.g., Amazon, Bokus or Adlibris.

The following resources, among others, can be found online:

In Microsoft Word you can right-click a word and choose Synonyms. You can also search on Google. Write synonym followed by a colon and the word you want to find alternatives to.

You can find a comparison of different types of dictionaries 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.

–ice or -ise?

My advice is to practise.

In British English some nouns end in -ice and the corresponding verbs in -ise:




licence/license (without the i)

In American English noun and verb have the same form; the s is retained in license/license, and the c in practice/practice.

Some words take the same form as verb and noun:
Disguise, exercise, franchise, invoice, merchandise, notice, promise, sacrifice, slice, surprise

Service is a noun but it is also used as a verb: I need to service my car. However, the word has taken on a sexual connotation and you should avoid it with one or more persons as direct object. Use serve, help, aid or assist instead.

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.

Compare to or compare with?

The word compare is used with to or with. Both are correct, but there is a small difference in meaning. We use compare with to put two or more things beside each other and look for differences and similarities. We must use compare to when we want to suggest that two things are similar:

Some historians compare him to Churchill.

Stockholm has been compared to Venice.

If you refer to both similarities and differences, use with:

Compared with last year’s result, we see a huge difference this year.

Most writers do not know the difference between compare with and compare to, or they don’t care. In American English, to is more common. But you, as a good writer, will of course know the diference.

As a writer I might compare myself with, say, Bruce Chatwin (and realise that I am vastly inferior to him), but I would never dream of comparing myself to Bruce Chatwin (implying that I might be as good a writer as he was).

So the little boy in the image above may compare his belly with his mother’s: ”Look, mummy, your tummy is bigger than mine!” But he may just as well compare his tummy to his mother’s and say, ”Look mummy, I’ve got a tummy too!”

Which English should you use?

American English or British English? Or perhaps Oxford spelling? Does it matter which language you choose? Do your readers care?

Obviously, if you write for an American audience, you should write American English. And if you want to send a paper to a British journal, you should use UK English, which is another name for British English. Always check with the publisher or read the style guide of the journal. However, it is crucial that you are consistent and write your whole text in one and the same language.

When you write a doctoral thesis or a novel, the choice of language is yours. Only, as I said above, be consistent.

If you go for American English, use American spelling and write labor instead of labour, center instead of centre, catalog instead of catalogue, fulfill instead of fulfil, traveling instead of travelling, and so on. Use a z instead of an s in words like recognize and organization. (There are, however, some words that are always written with -ise or -yse – read more about them here.)

American English uses the serial comma, which is the comma that is placed before and or or in a series of words. An example: Horses, cows, and sheep are farm animals. British English does not use this comma.

There are also differences in vocabulary. The American apartment is a flat in Britain, Brits walk on the pavement, while Americans use the sidewalk. And when you are angry in Britain, you are mad in America – to a Brit mad means crazy. When something is quite good it is very good in America but only fairly good in Britain.

There are, of course, also differences in grammar. When a British speaker uses the perfect tense, I have already called him, an American would use the past tense, I already called him. The American a real good movie is in British a really good film.

Oxford spelling is a variant of British English. It prefers -ize in words like organize and recognize instead of the spelling -ise in British English. The spelling with -ize is actually the oldest; organize, for example, appeared in a text in England as early as around 1425. The Oxford spelling is used by publishers like Collins, Longman and Oxford University Press (but not Oxford University!) and some academic journals in Britain. The Oxford spelling uses the serial comma, which therefore is also called the Oxford comma.

If you have any questions or comments, use my Contact page.

English and Englishes

English is the most widely used language in the world. It was spread first through migration (mainly to North America, South Africa and Australia) and later, when the British Empire expanded, through the colonisation of Africa and Asia. When the English language came into contact with local languages, there grew new varieties, which now are called World Englishes.

American English differs from British English as well as from Australian English. There are even different Englishes in Britain; besides Standard English we find Scottish English, Cockney, Kentish, Scouse (Liverpool), Geordie (North East England) and others. The USA has General (or Standard) American English as well as varieties such as African American, Western, Mid-Atlantic and North Central English.

We can also speak about World English (in the singular), referring to the lingua franca, the common language used in communication all over the world between people who speak different native languages. In fact, most users of English in the world do not have English as their mother tongue but use it to communicate with other non-native (and, of course, also native) English speakers. Naturally, a speaker’s English will be affected by their native language when it comes to vocabulary, idioms, grammar, etc. So you can hear Chinglish (in China), Franglish (in France), Honglish (in Hong Kong), Singlish (in Singapore), Swinglish (in Sweden), and so on.

There are two challenges facing you as a non-native English writer. One is knowing which English to write. Usually your choice would be between British and American English. The other challenge is avoiding too great an influence from your own language. We will deal with those challenges later on in this blog.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2019

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑