This page was last updated: 26 October 2013
the fact that
The fact that... what? Avoid this phrase because, well, the fact that the sun is bright, the fact that the World Wide Web was invented in 1989. If it's a fact, there is no need to state it explicitly.
faraway or far away?
Something is far away, as in out of reach. The adjective can be used to describe something as a faraway place.
farther or further?
fatality or death?
Brits are famous for regarding death to be a taboo subject, with the exception of news coverage. (It's not just the tabloid newspapers who love to revel in the details, the BBC is just as guilty of voyeurism.) In most cases, prefer death over fatality.
Don't forget the apostrophe before the s.
faultline or fault-line?
It is fault-line, with a hyphen.
fazed or phased?
Fazed means 'perplexed' and phased describes 'stages'.
fed up with or fed up of?
It is fed up with, not fed up of.
female or women's?
It is quite common to see bathroom doors in Britain emblazoned with the words 'Female' or 'Female Toilets'. A British insurance company advertised on television the possibility to insure against 'female cancers' (sic). What they actually meant was that they had a specialist policy available to women against certain forms of cancer that afflict women, such as cervical cancer. What the company inadvertently did was give cancer a gender; and, being ceramic, nor do toilets have gender. It should of course be women's toilet.
Ferris wheel or ferris wheel?
Use ferris wheel. No need for a capital F.
fewer or less?
See fewer or less?
fiancé or fiancée?
A fiancé is male, and fiancée female. (Divorcée is used for both.)
fill in a form or fill out a form?
In the British English it's fill in a form and in US English it's fill out a form. Make sure the correct US form is used in the US and try to stick with fill in with British English, even though the other one is increasingly common. The American form has made headway in British English since the mid-1900s.
Don't forget the hyphen, because we are talking about a comb with fine teeth. A fine 'tooth-comb', on the other hand, is part of the root of a tooth, known also as the dental comb.
A firing line is a line of marksmen. If you are within their aim, you are not in the firing line, but in the line of fire.
fit for purpose
An over-used phrase. Isn't there a more specific way of saying what you mean?
flammable or inflammable?
Both words actually mean the same thing. Most people would assume that the word inflammable means "not flammable" because of the in- prefix, but it doesn't. Actually, flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. The in- here has the same purpose as en-, thus "enflammable" sounds more likely to catch fire.
The opposite of 'inflammable' is non-flammable.
flaunt or flout?
To flaunt is to show off, and to flout is disobey the rules.
flounder or founder?
Flounder is to not do well at something, but to founder is to fail at something.
focus on or focus around?
Choosing to use the word focus implies looking at something specific, therefore 'focus around' is a contradiction. Make sure you only use focus on and centre on etc. It is what you mean, after all.
focussed or focused?
Use focused and focusing for both UK and US English.
footie or footy?
Footie is football in the UK (soccer) and footy is football in Australia (not 'soccer', but Aussie-rules football).
forever or for ever?
Forever is constant/continuous, and for ever is always, as in '... for ever, as long as you shall live' and 'She is forever pestering me about that promise that I made her'. In the US, however, the preference is forever in both cases.
forfeited or forfeitted?
One t is enough, so write forfeited.
forgo or forego?
To forgo means 'go without, omit' and it has a variant spelling forego. A older word, forego, means 'go before/ahead of others in time or place'.
formulas or formulae?
One formula for success, two formulas for success. The word formulae is used only in the scientific sense.
If you think about it ... is the future ever really 'foreseeable'? No? Then maybe this needs to be rephrased.
This word, contrary to popular belief, is not related to the word fortune, so has nothing to do with being lucky. Something that is fortuitous is describing something that happens by chance. A fourtuitous encounter is a chance encounter, both good or bad – it is not always a 'lucky' one, strictly speaking.
How else do you plan? Drop the word forward from any text you are writing before anyone sees.
forward or foreword
The mistake to avoid here is to call an introduction in your book, report or document a foreword, not 'forward'.
forwards or forward?
depends: British English prefers 'forwards' as an adverb over 'forward' (the form usually used in American English), but that doesn't mean that the latter isn't used in Britain. They look 'forward' to football season, call you 'forward' if you ask too many personal questions or might describe something having a 'forward' motion.
framework, foundations or groundwork?
You build/construct/erect a framework, but lay the groundwork or foundations. You don't 'lay' any framework.
The important thing about using Frankenstein as an adjective is to remember that Frankenstein was the scientist in Mary Shelley's novel who created the famous monster. That monster is known as Dr Frankenstein's monster.
Therefore, using the term 'Frankenstein foods' to describe genetically modified (GM) foods or crops is 'technically wrong', regardless whether you think that growing such foods is ethically wrong or not. I doubt, though, that the term 'Dr Frankenstein's foods' will ever catch on.
free or for free?
There is no need for the word 'for' to precede free in a sentence such as 'I will give it to you for free'. The reason that many people use 'for free' (which has arguably become standard usage) is that they think of for nothing. Free is an adverb and nothing is a noun, so they get different treatment. If the adverb were cheaply, it would be 'I will give it to you for cheaply', which just sounds wrong.
In the UK, it is common to use the term BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free). If we insisted on 'for free' it would be BOGOFF!
freshman or freshmen?
The plural of freshman is, of course, freshmen. Be aware that using it as an adjective it stays in the singular: freshman college, freshman year, freshman lecture etc
Fuji or Fujiyama?
The -yama bit means 'mountain'. In English the famous volcano in Japan is called Mount Fuji or Mt Fuji, not 'Mount Fujiyama' (which would mean Mount Fuji Mountain).
fulfil or fulfill?
The British spelling is fulfil and the US spelling is fulfill. The derivative fulfilled and fulfilling is correct in both forms of English.
fulfilment or fulfillment?
The British spelling is fulfilment and the US spelling is fulfillment.
fulsome, meaning of
To use this word, it is best to know what it means. It is often used as 'fulsome praise', but fulsome means 'disgusting by excess'.
fushia or fuchsia?
The correct spelling is fuchsia.
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.