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Category: English (Page 1 of 9)

What are false friends?

False friends are words in two languages that look and/or sound alike but whose meanings are completely or partially different. The two words may have—and often do have—the same origin (If they do not have the same origin, they are called false cognates).

It is clear that false friends may give rise to amusing and sometimes embarrassing mistakes, but they can also cause potentially disastrous misunderstandings with serious consequences.

Here are some examples of English false friends in other languages
(The first letter in German nouns is upper-case):

English–French

carcoach, bus, van
cavecellar, basement, nightclub
figureface
journalnewspaper, magazine
lecturereading, reading matter
locationrenting, hiring; lease, reservation
radioX-ray
routeroad
sensiblesensitive
smokingdinner-jacket, tuxedo
English–German
alsoso, thus
blankshiny, bright
chefleader, boss
chipspotato crisps
fatalawkward, embarrassing
giftpoison, venom
hallsound, echo
kindchild
lackvarnish, lacquer
listcunning, trick
modefashion
plumpawkward; crude; obvious
smokingdinner-jacket, tuxedo
stillquiet, silent
tastekey (on a keyboard)
English–Italian
braceembers, charcoal
cuteskin
duetwo
famehunger, starvation
faredo, make
mediaaverage
replicarepetition; reply
smokingdinner-jacket, tuxedo
stilestylus
turbinewhirlwind, swirl
English–Spanish
actualcurrent, topical, fashionable
cabaretnightclub
editorpublisher
eventualpossible; temporary
particularprivate, personal
sensiblesensitive; responsive; emotional
villasmall town, municipality
virtualpotential, possible
English–Swedish
artspecies
barnchild
bragood, well
fartspeed
fasteraunt
friskhealthy; fresh
frompious
glassice cream
kisspee
semestervacation
slutend
smokingdinner-jacket, tuxedo

You can read about my book on English–Swedish false friends and other treacherous words here.

Critic or critique—what’s the difference?

It may be difficult to understand the difference between critic and critique.

A critic in English refers to a person. It is someone who criticizes something, in other words, expresses criticism.

A critic is also someone who gives an opinion about books, films, music, etc., usually professionally in a paper or magazine or on radio or television. A critic writes a review.

A small boy is reading a book while walking on a pavement. The image is meant to illustrate the concept of a critic.
Future critic?

A critique is a detailed analysis and assessment, usually of a literary, philosophical, or political theory.

The problem for Swedish speakers of English is that both criticism and critique correspond to the same word in Swedish, kritik, and that critic can be mistakenly taken to mean kritik.

Technique and technology

The words technique and technology are related to each other, but it is important to understand the difference between them.

TECHNIQUE

Technique refers to how you carry out a particular task, an efficient way of achieving something or the skill needed to do so. In order to swim fast, for example, you need a good technique. The corresponding adjective is technical.

Technique

TECHNOLOGY

Technology is applied science, the use of scientific knowledge and methods to accomplish a task. Technology is used to improve products and services. The corresponding adjective is technological.

Technology

To sum up, technology gives us the tools and technique determines how the tools are used.

Biannual and biennial

What’s the difference between biannual and biennial?

The two words biannual and biennial are easily confused.

Both come from Latin bi-, twice, and annus, year.

Biannual means occurring twice a year, and biennial means occurring every second year – think of the Venice Biennial (in Italian la Biennale di Venezia).

Perhaps you polish your car or clear out your garage twice every year – then that is a biannual activity. If you go to a conference that is held every two years, you attend a biennial conference.

Biennial can also refer to a plant that blooms or bears fruit in its second year and then dies.

Instead of biannual, you can write semiannual; both words refer to something happening twice a year or every half year.

Biweekly and bimonthly don’t have this distinction – there is no vowel as in annus that could show the difference. Biweekly could mean both twice a week and once every second week. A bimonthly magazine could be one that is published twice a month or every two months. As a writer, you need to make it clear what you intend to say.

A view from San Marco in Venice towards the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute with birds flying against a sunset. The image refers to the Biennial of Venice to illustrate the difference between biannual and biennial.
The Venice Biennial is one of the most prestigious cultural festivals in the world

Connect to or connect with?

There is a difference between connect to and connect with.

CONNECT TO

Use connect to when you talk about a physical link between one object and another.

Make sure the printer is connected to your computer.
My Wi-Fi works but I’m not connected to the internet.

CONNECT WITH

Use connect with when you talk about a relationship, a non-physical link.

These are typical symptoms connected with appendicitis.
He immediately connected with his therapist.
She is extremely good at connecting with her audience.

This, of course, also applies to the noun connection.

A man is being heard by the police in connection with a burglary last night.

A speaker in front of his audience of students. The image illustrates the difference between connect to and connect with.
He is extremely good at connecting with his audience

Practice or practise?

Should you write practice or practise?

PRACTICE

In British and American English, practice is a noun with the following meanings:

1. custom, method, tradition, habit
–Practice is the process of doing something as opposed to theory

2. exercise, work-out
–Practice is the repeated exercise to acquire a skill

3. profession, work, career, occupation
–I was looking for a text-book on the practice of medicine

4. business, company, office, firm
–She works in a small legal practice

5. use, operation, application
–The nurse encouraged the practice of safe sex

In American English, practice is also a verb, corresponding to practise in British English.

PRACTISE

In British English, practise is a verb related to the nouns presented above.

Consequently, it can mean repeat, rehearse; do, work out; apply, carry out, perform; specialise in, work at.

As you see, American English has only the spelling practice for both the noun and the verb.

In British English, you can write To practise every day is good practice

A young girl is practising playing the flute in a living-room. The purpose of the image is to illustrate the difference between practice and practise.
To practise every day is good practice

Read more about the endings -ice and -ise here.

In and within

The words in and within often cause confusion. Some writers use the word within in places where it is inappropriate or wrong. I once saw an advert from a university that was inviting applications for the position of Professor within Economics. If you know that within often can be replaced by inside, it is clear that the ad looked slightly ridiculous.

In my job as copyeditor of scientific texts, I see within more often than I would like. Perhaps those who write within may think the word makes a text more scholarly. As you can see from the example above, within may look ludicrous.

IN

In is used about place or time:

He was in the kitchen.
My daughter lives in Italy.
This happened in late September.
See you in a minute. 
I haven’t felt this happy in years. 

WITHIN

Within often means inside a certain area, according to particular limits or rules, or during a certain period of time:

An angry voice was heard from within.
After she had left, I had a warm feeling within me.
Don’t place this medicine within the reach of children!
Delivery is free of charge within a thirty-kilometre limit.
From your hotel, the picturesque gardens are within easy reach.
I am not sure we can do this within budget.
Within minutes of arriving at the railway station, I heard a loud voice calling my name.
They had had three burglaries within six months.

A little girl is stretching to reach an apple hanging from a tree. The image illustrates the use of in and within.
Just within reach

IN AN HOUR OR WITHIN AN HOUR?

I’ll be back in an hour means that I ’ll be back in about one hour, perhaps fifty, sixty, or seventy minutes from now.

I’ll be back within an hour means that I’ll be back at any time before an hour has passed but in one hour at the latest.

I hope this has helped you understand the difference between in and within.

At the beginning or in the beginning?

The phrases at the beginning and in the beginning seem to mean the same thing, but there is a difference.

AT THE BEGINNING

At the beginning refers to a point in time, an instant, a specific time (or place) to describe the start of something. It is often followed by of.

At the beginning of his lecture, the speaker put an apple on the lectern.
The national anthems of the two teams were played at the beginning of the match.

A physician and a nurse performing surgery on a foot. The image is meant to illustrate the the difference between the phrases 'at the beginning' and 'in the beginning'.
At the beginning I thought there would be a lot more blood.

IN THE BEGINNING

The phrase in the beginning refers to a period of time:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

The phrase is often used to contrast two situations in time:

In the beginning, I couldn’t understand what he meant, but when he showed a diagram, things got clearer.

And, since we have come to the end of this post, let me remind you that you can read about at the end and in the end here.

At the end, in the end and by the end

Can you distinguish between at the end, in the end and by the end?

AT THE END

At the end refers to a particular time or place. It is always followed by ’of’.

At the end of the show, the audience gave a standing ovation.
The bathroom is at the end of the corridor.

The image shows a gallery or mine passage in a mine and is intended to illustrate the use of the phrase at the end.
What’s at the end of the tunnel?

A specific phrase is at the end of the day, which means after all, when everything is considered, when all is said and done.

At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

IN THE END

In the end refers to an outcome or result.

We had a long discussion and in the end we decided to get rid of our old car.

BY THE END

By the end means before, no later than.

You will get my report by the end of this week.

There is also a difference between at the beginning and in the beginning. Read more here.

Adopt, adapt and adept

The similarity of these three words can be confusing. Adopt and adapt are verbs, while adept is an adjective or a noun.

ADOPT

Adopt means to take or acquire as your own. This can refer to adopting a child (which usually involves legal formalities) or adopting an animal as a pet. 

It didn’t take long before they regretted having adopted a Great Dane.

You can also adopt, for example, a certain lifestyle, a strategy or a habit.

She had adopted a vegetarian diet.

Adopt is also used to say that one language has borrowed a word from another language.

From Swedish, English has adopted the word smorgasbord, meaning a buffet of hot and cold dishes.

ADAPT

Adapt means to modify, to adjust or become adjusted to new conditions, to make something suitable for a new use.

The spare room had to be adapted into a small office.

The film was adapted from a Pulitzer-winning novel.

Our dog quickly adapted to the new environment.

The corresponding nouns are adoption and adaptation.

ADEPT

As an adjective, adept means skilled, talented, good at doing something difficult, and as a noun it refers to an expert, somebody who is skilled or talented.

To everybody’s surprise, Grandma turned out to be adept at using a computer.

We all considered him an adept at cooking.

A man in a kitchen preparing dinner. The image is meant to illustrate the word adept.
We all considered him an adept at cooking

In Swedish, adept means pupil, disciple or novice, beginner.  Thus, in spite of the word having the same Latin background as the English one, the Swedish word has the opposite meaning.

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