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This page was last updated: 26 October 2013

plural of dado

The plural is dados.

datable or dateable?

Make it datable.

data is or data are?

See data is or data are?

data set or dataset?

Make it data set.

at the dead of night or in the dead of night?

Americans say in the dead of night. While this same phrase is the common form in the UK, at the dead of night is a variant that is virtually unheard of in the US.

deaf ears

Avoid using this hackneyed phrase if you are at all the type of person who is inclined to avoid cliches. If someone rejects your suggestion or argument then they are just being stubborn, not deaf.

deathly or deadly?

Use deadly for 'capable of causing death' [A deadly spider] and deathly for "like death" [His wife gave him a deathly glare] – not "deadly glare".

deal in or deal with?

Make it deal in in connection with items and commodities [We deal in small goods, cheeses and specialty breads.] and deal with in connection with people, situations and obstacles etc [I will deal with the manager.].

debar or disbar?

Make it debar in connection with stopping or prohibiting and disbar in connection with 'remove/removal from the bar' in the legal sense.

debateable or debatable?

The standard spelling in all forms of English is debatable.


The debate about the "true" meaning of decimate has gone on for at least 150 years – rather, some have tried to argue that its one and only meaning is "reduce by a tenth". This futile batte has long been lost.

Meanwhile, the 21st Century battle over the meaning is being fought over other matters. In British English its sole meaning is reduce substantially (often with great force). This same meaning is true also in US English, except that it also appears to endorse the meaning raze to the ground, which is not recognised by all.

Also not recognised in British or US English is the incorrect use of decimate to mean destroy(ed) completely. This has never been correct, nor has the recent meaning as a synonym of 'devastated'. Do not write: the fans were decimated by the news.

defective or deficient?

Make it deficient in connection with insufficient amount [You must be deficient in vitamin C] and defective in connection with not perfect [The phone is defective].

defence or defense?

The UK spelling is defence and the US spelling is defense. The -se spelling was introduced by Noah Webster in his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the American Language (1806).

definite or definitive?

Make it definite in connection with precision and certainty [I can give you a definite result on Thursday] and definitive in connection with a final, unconditional conclusion [This is the definitive ruling that will guide all future decisions]. Definitive also means 'complete' [She has written the definitive history of the organisation].

Don't fall into the trap of using definitive when you just mean definite. The former is not a more elegant variety of the latter.

defuse or diffuse?

You defuse a bomb. Diffuse means 'spread (a)round'.

delineate: delineatable or delineable?

Make it delineable and delineation.

demarcation or demarkation?

Make demarcation the preferred spelling.

deny or refute?

Make it deny in connection with rejecting a claim, statement or accusation to deem it as false [I don't deny my sweet tooth but I do deny all knowledge of where the cake went] and restrict refute only to when you have proof at the same time as denying an assertion [This evidence refutes your claim that I was there at the time].

In other words, refute means "prove something to be false" rather than deny or reject a claim. This is a common error in that people use refute when they mean refuse, reject or deny.

To say "I refute that claim" does not have the same meaning as "I reject/deny that claim". To refute something, you must then have proof or evidence to back it up, rather than use it to dismiss something.

Democratic party or Democrat party?

It always has been the Democratic party. Democrat party is incorrect.

dependent or dependant?

A dependant (noun) is someone who "relies on another person for support, while dependent (adjective) means "relying on".

For spelling, the confusion comes from both words sounding the same. A simple trick is to think "ant (noun) dependant (noun)" and "dependent (adjective with an -e)".

It can sometimes be unclear which should be which: "We must not become dependent (adjective, not noun) on financial support".

A related word is independent, which has the same spelling as a noun (independent) and as a adjective (independent). See independent.

desert or dessert?

The desert is full of sand and dessert is usually full of sugar.

desiccated or dessicated?

The correct spelling is desiccated, with one s and to cs.

despise: despicable or despisable?

Believe it or not, "despisable" is not a recognised word. The correct derivative is despicable. This is because despire comes from Old French despire, which in turn comes from Latin despicere, meaning 'look down (at)'

diaeresis or dieresis?

The British spelling is diaeresis and the American spelling is dieresis (or dieresïs with an ï).

diagrammed or diagramed?

Unlike program/programme Britsh and US spelling share the same spelling of diagram. However, they do differ in diagrammed and diagramming (UK), and diagramed and diagraming (US).

dialling or dialing?

The British spelling is dialling, the US spelling is dialing.

diarrhoea or diarrhea?

The British spelling is diarrhoea, the US spelling is diarrhea.

dietitian or dietician?

The preferred spelling in British, American, Candian and Australian English is dietitian, with two Ts, while dietician, once heavily favoured, is now relegated to alternative/variant spelling.

different to, different from or different than?

The standard and correct form in both British and American English is always different from. The non-standard but typical forms are 'different to' in British English and 'different than' in American English – rarely the other way round.

digitalisation or digitisation?

It's easy to see how all things digital might lead to talk of 'digitalisation' (sic), but the word is digitisation.

disabled or handicapped?

Avoid the term 'handicapped' etc. Instead it is better to use disabled people, disabled person or disabled access etc, or generally about a disability. The common consensus is that this word is to be preferred, while avoiding words like 'handicapped' etc.

disc or disk?

For British English, use the word disc for something that is flat and circular, as well as the optical format for storing data, compact disc, while magnetic variety of disk a is used for the type involving a computer.

In American English, the spelling is disk for everything.

discreet or discrete?

Discreet is to use your words carefully and also to keep a secret, while discrete is for things that are separated by space.

disinterested or uninterested?

Uninterested means to not care or be interested; disinterested means to have no pre-existing or vested interest in something, which means to have an unbiased or neutral position in the matter.

small distance or short distance

It's not "small distance", it's short distance. Small means size while short means length.

distill or distil?

The US spelling is distill while the British spelling is distil.

domestic flight or internal flight?

The proper term is domestic flight. No matter how many advertisements you see advertising 'internal flights', don't be tempted to try one, it might hurt.

dos and don'ts

Not to be spelt 'do's and don'ts'.

dot-com boom/bubble or dotcom boom/bubble?

Make it dotcom bubble and dotcom boom.

at the double or on the double?

In the both the US and the UK, on the double is the norm. In the UK, the variant at the double is sometimes used.

downplay or play down?

The Americans may use downplay a lot, making it the standard term.

In Britain, careful writers use play down, and it does not make you seem conservative or boring for using it.

down the years or through the years?

Down the years is more common in the UK than in the US, where through the years is the preferred phrase.

duct tape or duck tape?

See duct tape or duck tape?

dwarfs or dwarves?

The plural of dwarf is dwarfs. Dwarves is the UK variant used for fairytales only.


This page last updated: 15 November 2014

Jesse Karjalainen is the author of The Joy of English: 100 conversations about the English Language, Cannibal – the language and history of the discovery of the New World, and Roanoke – the language and history of Early Colonial America.