Are You Predominantly Correct or Mistaken?

I sometimes hear or read sentences like “He predominately goes to that Starbuck’s.” That word is a mouthful, and because it sounds so much like predominantly, it’s no surprise the words get mixed up.

While the meanings of the two words are nearly identical, there is a rationale for the differentiation.

  • Predominate: to hold advantage in numbers or quantity; to exert controlling power or influence
  • Predominant: having superior strength, influence or authority; being most frequent or common.

Predominate is best used as a verb, though historically it has also been used as an adjective. Predominant, however, is always used as an adjective. Both words are formed from the root dominate, for which verb and adjective usages are clearer.

I trust few of us would stumble over these word choices:

  • Ranchers’ interests dominate the Western Governors Conference agenda.
  • The dominant concern of the Western Governors Conference is ranching interests.

History is against the critics. Predominate has been recorded as an adjective since 1591. It’s true that predominantly is much more common than predominately, as predominant is than predominate. However, there is no difference in sense between the pairs and the other forms aren’t wrong, just less often preferred alternatives.

When the adverb is called for, predominantly wins out almost every time, even though both predominate and predominant can be turned into adverbs by adding ly. But predominantly predominates in good usage.

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One Comment

  1. Actually, I don’t believe either word is correct in the example given. I think “more frequently” would be the proper usage. And if you’re going to use the language at all, you should make each word do its proper job. I believe expressing how often you go to Starbucks should be expressed in terms of frequency of visits. “Predominately,” with its connotations of superiority, doesn’t really fit the bill here.

    My OED provides the following definitions for the verb “predominate”:
    1. Have or exert controlling power over; be superior
    2. Be the stronger or leading element; preponderate
    3. Dominate, prevail over, control (now rare)
    4. Rise high or tower over

    Definition number 2 “sort of” describes what the speaker wants. But in language we’re not trying to “sort of” say anything. We want, as I say, to be precise.

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