Tag Archive - confusables

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. Continue Reading…

Are You Done or Finished?

A child pushes a plate away at the end of the meal and announces, “I’m done.”

The well-intentioned but misinformed parent chides, “You’re finished, dear. Cakes are done. People are finished.”

Are they? Is there a rule that tells when to use done and when to use finished?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, done has been accepted and used in good company as the past tense of do dating back to the 1300s. There seems to have been some preference or practice for using have with done and be/am verbs only with finished. It’s also worth noting that finished is a more recent term, dating only to the 1700s. So the insistence on using done only in reference to things and finished to people is really a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality that languages are living, breathing, and changing things.

Modern dictionaries agree. Most define done first as a past form of do, which means to accomplish or complete an effort. Done, meaning “cooked adequately,” is much further down the list. But this does show that yes, people can be both done and/or finished.

However, finished implies an object (called a transitive verb) in this type of structure. Finished what?  Dinner. Finished with what? With eating.

But when using finished as an intransitive verb (not needing an object), it can also mean something like “I’m washed up,” “done for [there’s done again],” “I’m toast [okay, slang, but you get the idea].” Which gets me thinking about done and how it describes the degree something (like a cut of meat) is cooked. Can you be “well done” with your dinner?

So go right ahead and excuse yourself from the table with an “I’m done. And don’t let anyone tell you you’re finished instead of done. Unless they really mean you are washed up.

I Both Anticipate and Expect a Reaction

Two words that share similar nuances are anticipate and expect. Both mean “to look forward to.” But anticipate also carries the idea of taking action in expectation or preparation for a future event. Expect carries more certainty and does not require action.

  • The Johnsons anticipated a long winter. (They took steps to prepare, perhaps stocking a cellar with canned goods, having supplies of heating fuel, etc.)
  • The Morgans expected a long winter. (They are certain of what lies ahead, but the sentence implies no preparations.)

Expect also has other meanings. Expecting is often used to refer to pregnancy. A couple who is planning to start a family, may anticipate being pregnant by a certain time, but once the pregnancy is certain, we talk about expecting a baby. Barring any complications, the arrival of a baby is an almost certain probability.

Expect can also mean something that is required.

  • I expect your chores to be done when I come home.
  • His parents expected him to excel in school.

Now that you know the difference, I expect you will use these terms correctly in the future.

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