Usage

This section gives you lots of advice, helping you to avoid making some of the most common mistakes of usage. Do you worry about the correct use of hopefully, for example, or wonder what the difference is between affect and effect or flaunt and flout? Are you uncertain about whether to say different from or different than or if you should say ‘a historic event’ or ‘an historic event’? And if you’ve ever been puzzled about cactuses versus cacti, go to Plurals of foreign words.

Explore the links below to find clear and straightforward guidance on these topics and many more. You can find more help with the correct use of English in Grammar tips.

Pour or pore

"Pour" or "pore"?

‘I poured over a book’ or ‘I pored over a book’? Pour and pore sound very similar, but they have different meanings: here’s how to get it right.

Principal or principle

"Principal" Or "Principle"?

‘Principle’ and ‘principal’ sound the same but do not have the same meaning: our explanation should be the principal place you look to sort them out!

Shall or will

"Shall" Or "Will"?

Shall or will? You might be wondering when to use ‘shall’ and ‘will’: while they can be used fairly interchangeably, there are some perceived differences.

Dates days months years

"Some Day" Or "Someday"?

Someday or some day? A number of common English words started life as two-word phrases – but has ‘some day’ made the jump to ‘someday’ yet?

That or which

"That" Or "Which"?

‘That’ and ‘which’ are very common words, but which to use? It’s different in British and American English, but don’t worry: here’s all you need to know.

British and american terms

The Differences Between British And American Terms

British and American English often use different terms to describe the same thing. Here's a handy list of the most common British terms and their American equivalents.

Themselves or themself

"Themselves" Or "Themself"?

Should you ever use ‘themself’ rather than ‘themselves’? And if yes, then when? We take a look at singular ‘they’ and its corresponding reflexive pronoun.

These or those

"These" Or "Those"?

Do you know when you should use ‘these’ and when you should use ‘those’? Our guidelines can help you work out the difference between these determiners.

To or too

"To" Or "Too"?

‘To’ and too’ are often confused. The Oxford Dictionaries team explain how to tell the difference between ‘to’ and ‘too’, and how to use them in a sentence.

Tortuous or torturous

"Tortuous" Or "Torturous"?

‘Tortuous' and 'torturous' are one letter apart and sound similar, but they are quite different in meaning. This article explains the difference.

What is a dialect

What is a dialect?

Different areas have their own non-standard forms of English known as dialects; explore some here.

Informal language

What Is Informal Language?

Usually Informal language is only ever used between people who know each other very well. This article gives you a few examples of informal word equivalents.

Literary language

What Is Literary Language?

Are you torn choosing between the words ‘apart’ and ‘asunder’? Let us help you decide when to use literary language—and when to leave it behind.

Slang

What Is Slang?

Many groups of people have their own slang, from sailors to students. Some slang words enter standard English: which everyday words started life as slang?

Standard english

What Is Standard English?

Standard English: you might have heard this term in discussions of language, and wondered quite what it means –and does it represent the language you speak?

When to use formal language

When to use formal language

Are you ruminating about when to use the word ‘ruminate’ or thinking it’s better to avoid ‘think’? Our guide shows you when formal is best—and when it’s not.

Who or whom

"Who" Or "Whom"?

Who or whom? This decision might have plagued you, and debate about the relevance of ‘whom’ is ongoing: our page will help you choose when to use which word.

Old fashioned language

Words That Used To Be Common

Some words are used less often now: learn why some of these words are labelled ‘archaic’ and some are labelled ‘dated’ with our guide to old-fashioned language.