Tricky words


  • alumna – female former member [of college etc]
  • alumnae – plural form for female-only former members [of college etc]
  • alumni – plural form for either male-only or mixed-gender former members [of college etc]
  • alumnus – male former member [of college etc]
  • benefited
  • biased
  • comprise (not comprise of)
  • dependant (noun)/dependent (adjective)
  • email (lower case and not hyphenated)
  • enquire/enquiry (preferred to inquire/inquiry)
  • focused
  • fundraising

  • instalment
  • internet (lower case)
  • licence (noun)/ license (verb)
  • manoeuvre
  • no-one (hyphenated)
  • paralleled
  • postdoctoral (no hyphen)
  • postgraduate (no hyphen, whether as noun or adjective)
  • postholder (no hyphen and lower case)
  • practice (noun)/practise (verb)
  • riveting
  • supersede
  • website/webpage (no hyphen and lower case)

General guidelines


  • use suffix -ise NOT –ize

  Derren Brown hypnotised his subject live on TV..

  • retain -e where required for pronunciation: ageing, acknowledgement, judgement
  • proper names ending in -y do not change to -ies if pluralised
  • foreign spellings;  just use ‘e’ spellings, not ae or æ, where in common British usage


  • plurals: use appropriate foreign (particularly ancient Greek and Latin) plural forms where still in common usage (also see alumnus under spelling section above)


  • note that more than one form is sometimes in use for different meanings of a word:

formula–formulas but formulae in maths/chemistry
index–indices for maths and indexes for books
appendix–appendices for books and appendixes in anatomy

  • contractions: use of ‘hasn’t’ rather than ‘has not’ etc is fine in the majority of cases, especially informally
  • with compound words formed by a noun and an adjective or two nouns connected by a preposition, pluralise the (more important) noun

Attorney General/Attorneys General

Word usage and spelling


among v between


  • Among is used for undifferentiated items (She couldn’t decide among all the colleges.)
  • Between is used with individual, named items (She couldn’t decide between Magdalen or St Hilda’s.)


less v fewer


  • Less is used with nouns which are not countable objects: if you could use much to describe having a lot of the noun, use less (‘I can’t eat that much cheese: please give me less.’)
  • Fewer is used with countable objects: if you could use many to describe having a lot of  the noun, use less (‘I can’t eat that many sprouts: please give me fewer.’)


effect v affect (verb)


  • Effect as a verb means to bring about, or to have the result that: A glass of brandy may effect his recovery. (effect his recovery: improve his health to the point of recovery)
  • Affect as a verb means to have an impact on or to change something; it also means to simulate something which is untrue:

A glass of brandy may affect his recovery. (affect his recovery: have an impact on whether or not he recovers at all, or the speed of his recovery)
He affected to have drunk only one glass of brandy. (affect to have drunk only one glass: pretend to have drunk less brandy than actually drunk)


effect v affect (noun)


  • Effect as a noun means the impact something causes

The storm had wide-reaching effects.

  • Affect as a noun means someone’s outward appearance of their psychological state

His affect was one of cheerful indifference.

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