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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.

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

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.

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.

What’s the difference between different and various?

In my job as copyeditor I notice that writers tend to overuse different when they should write various instead.

Different, as you know, means that something is not the same as something else. One thing is different from another thing, or two or more things are different, not alike.

A young man and a middle-aged man wearing different models of sunglasses. The image illustrates the difference between different and various.
They have different models of sunglasses

Various implies that there is a variety among things; there are several different variants of something. Various is used before a plural noun about things that are of the same type but not all of exactly the same kind.

A display of various models and colours of sunglasses. The image illustrates the difference between different and various.
Various models and colours of sunglasses

Usually, the preposition from comes after different: Her latest novel is very different from anything she has written before. However, some writers prefer than after different. I would use than only with the comparative form: These two are more different than those.  Different than is common in US English. Sometimes I also see different to, which seems to be more common in British English, but you should avoid using different to in writing.

I recommend that you write different when you want to emphasise that there really is a difference. And write from instead of than or to! Write various to indicate that there are several types that are different from each other, that there is a variety of things.

Content or contents?

Both content and contents refer to something contained in something else. So, what’s the difference between them?

Content is uncountable; you cannot have it in the plural. It’s about the whole of something in something else.

The content of her speech really touched the audience.
He has carried out research on the fat content of frozen food.

Content providers supply material such as text, images or music, for use on websites.

In a book, content refers to all the text in a book, but contents is the list, usually at the beginning of the book, that presents the chapters of the book and what page each chapter starts at.

Obviously, contents is a countable noun – we use the plural form. We can identify the separate parts or at least understand that they are there.

He put the flask to his mouth and drank the contents.

The nouns content and contents have the stress on the first syllable.

Content pronounced with the stress on the last syllable is an adjective. This content means happy, satisfied, pleased.

He seemed very content with his new job.

Content with the stress on the last syllable can also be a verb:

I was terribly hungry but realized that I had to content myself with some wine and a small canapé or two.

Rows of small canapés with soft cheese and olives, ham, salami, etc. The image is meant to illustrate Content or contents?
A small canapé or two…

About brothers-in-law and runners-up

In an earlier blog post we looked at compounds and and noted that some are written with one or two hyphens. Here are a few examples:

Brother-in-law (your sister’s husband or your wife’s or husband’s brother)
Runner-up (one who finishes in second place)
Cul-de-sac (a street that is closed at one end)
Editor-in-chief (the manager of an editorial staff)

How should you write the plural form of such compounds? The answer is fairly logical: add the plural -s to the main part of the compound, the significant part.

Brothers-in-law
Runners-up
Editors-in-chief

Cul-de-sac has two plural forms: culs-de-sac or cul-de-sacs

When we write the genitive form, the -s comes at the end when we talk about people: 

My brother-in-law’s new car
The editor-in-chief’s wife

However, you can also write

The wife of the editor-in-chief

When we talk about things, we use the genitive form with of:

The end of the cul-de-sac

Email or e-mail? Or perhaps E-mail?

This word is a combination of electronic and mail.

Should you write it with a hyphen or not?

Some compunds have started as two words, then they have been hyphenated and finally combined into one word. Here are a couple of examples:

Proof reader – proof-reader – proofreader
Living room – living-room – livingroom

(You can read more about compounds here.)

If we follow that trend, we should write email. This form was more common in American English but is now also used in British English.

A young girl on a balcony is writing on a laptop. The image illustrates the concept of emails.
Writing an email

However, we write e-commerce and e-business, so there is a reason to use the form with a hyphen, e-mail.

Of course, if the word begins a sentence, we should write E-mail.

Other compunds with a single letter as the first part start with an uppercase letter also in the middle of a sentence:

T-shirt
U-turn
X-ray

Read more about how to write compounds here.

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