About The Joy of English



... is an overused word.

plural of ignoramus

When you have more than one ignoramus, the correct plural is ignoramuses. Only an ignoramus would try to make it 'ignorami'. The reason is that ignoramus (meaning 'we do not know') not a noun, so it follows similar Latinisms such as bonus, omnibus and minus in having -(s)es plurals.

I hear what you are saying

Do you? Good. Can we please stop using the overused and meaningless phrase?

ill advised or ill-advised?

With ill being an adverb, it needs no hyphen. Make it 'you are ill advised' and 'It is an ill advised plan', despite what most books tell you. See [well].

ill or sick?

In Britain, the act of vomiting is also called being sick or as in 'I'm going to be sick'. Sick in America, Australia and New Zealand means what the British refer to as being ill. If you have a cold in Britain, then you are ill; if you throw up then you are sick. When you are away from work due to illness you are said to be off sick.

Curiously, British news reports often claim people put in hospital after a violent assault, a serious car accident or even gunshot wounds to be 'seriously ill in hospital'. To non-Brits, this way of using ill seems bizarre. Both Brits and Americans use the expression sick of when they can no longer bear or tolerate something.


'The story made a big impact on ticket sales'. The word is a noun that careful writers avoid using as a verb. That said, many dictionaries list it as a verb because a lot of people use it as such, especially in relation to writing about climate change. It is often seen used as a synonym of 'influence'. The time will when impact as a verb is no longer frowned upon. That day, however, has not yet arrived.

imply or infer?

If you infer something, you are making a conclusion based on what you have read or heard. If you imply something, then you are hinting at or suggesting it in writing or speech.

I'm not trying to be funny or anything

Can we please stop using the overused and (often) meaningless phrase?

Inc. or Inc?

Write Inc in British English and Inc. in American English. The British approach to punctuating acronyms and abbreviations is almost always to exclude any punctuation marks.

in colour

Sometimes we don't realise that we double up our words for no reason. Describing something as 'green in colour' is two words too many. If you want yellow wallpaper, you don't need to say: 'I'm looking for wallpaper yellow in colour.'

incorporate into or incorporate in?

The proper term is incorporate into.

Incredible or incredulous

Incredible means 'unbelievable'. Incredulous means 'sceptical, unbelieving'. They are therefore not synonyms.

independent or independant?

"independant" is an incorrect spelling. The word independent has the same spelling as a noun (independent) and as a adjective (independent).

This is not true with the dependent (adjective) and dependant (noun). See dependent.

Indy or indie?

Indie is a type of music/film etc and Indy is the action-hero archaeologist, as well as the colloquial name for the Independent newspaper.

inexpressive or unexpressive?

Despite unexpressive being a common expression the OED does not list it. Instead it only lists inexpressive, which is the preferred way to, um, express it.

infinitive: can I split an infinitive?

See the split infinitive myth: Can I split an infinitive?

in order to

All you need is to. Save yourself two unnecessary word. It means exactly the same thing, I promise.

inquire or enquire?

In British English to ask a question is to enquire. The usual spelling for the same in American English is inquire. See below for the noun.

inquiry or enquiry?

The verb enquire/inquire is explained in the section above, which is simple enough. When it comes to enquiry/inquiry national differences come out. In BrEng an enquiry is just "a question" while an inquiry is "a form of official investigation". In AmEng inquiry is used for both.

inside of or inside?

In US English, inside of is common enough to be considered standard. In British English, however, the only correct standard is to use plain old inside when expressing location of position. The word inside automatically means inside ("of") something so there is no need to include "of".

Also, there is an informal expression in the UK used for expressing time: 'inside of' an hour. In print, it is better to use within an hour.

The same applies to outside: outside of the X (US); outside the X (UK).

instal or install

The usual spelling is install in American and British English. The word generally has been install in English since the 1500s and the spelling instal is a variant spelling that has never enjoyed mainstream use.

instalment or installment?

Write instalment in British English and installment in American English. Historically the two spellings have fluctuated but these Am/Br spelling differences are now fixed.

instant, instantaneous, or instantly?

Write instant coffee, instant reaction and instant desire. Use instantaneous to describe how something happened, as in death was instantaneous and the reaction was instantaneous.

The subtle difference between instantaneously and instantly is that the former means 'a split second later' and the latter usually means 'straightaway'. Compare There was instantaneous laughter with I want you to go, instantly.

instill or instil?

The spelling instill is used in US and Canadian English. In Britain and Australia, the usual spelling is instil. Both forms of English write instilled.

Contrary to popular belief, it is instill that is the original spelling, not the other way round. The British preference for instil arose only in the 1800s. Samuel Johnson's dictionary of 1755 featured instill. The word comes from Latin instillare.

instilled with or instilled in?

There is a popular idea that instilled with is always wrong and instilled in is the only correct option. However, this is not the case. First, instilled in is used in US English, e.g. These are the values that we want instilled in children. In British English the usage is the same but alongside the equally valid instilled into (e.g children). Second, instilled with is reserved (both in the US and in the UK) for passive sentences typically describing human feelings/emotion, such as instilled with fear/lust/ambition.

insure or ensure?

Insure is what you pay to do; and ensure means to 'make sure or certain'.

intend on or intend to?

You might plan on or plan to doing something, but you can only be intent on doing something. If you are less enthusiastic then you might only intend to do it, once you have time. Don't write 'intend on'.

internal flight or domestic flight?

domestic flight: No matter how many advertisements you see advertising them, don't be tempted to try an internal flight, it might hurt. But seriously, the proper term is 'domestic flight'. Or should we also start using internal terminal and international terminal?

interned or interred?

Apart from the word intern, a longer-term form of work experience, to be interned means to be imprisoned or trapped. To be interred is to be buried.

internet or Internet with a capital i?

There was a (long) while where Internet was always spelt with a capital i – but those days are over. It makes no difference whether you write the internet or just internet services, none of these need the capital letter.

The only person who is going to disagree is someone who has had it drilled into them and is stubbornly loyal to it.

Meanwhile, the majority of publishers, writers and news organisations have shifted to the ordinary, lowercase version as standard – in British, Canadian, Australian and US English.

introduction or preface?

An ideal preface sets out the purpose and scope of a book, with details about how you came to write it. An introduction should set out the subject of the book, introduce the text and the framework, as well as address the reader.

Put simply, a preface is the author's "I" part of a book and an introduction is the "you, dear reader" part.

-ise or -ize?

US English uses -ize spellings as standard. British English uses either -ise or -ize spellings according to personal preference or house style. However, Americans will write analyze while British spellers will spell analyse, even those who prefer -ize. Therefore, analyze is a spelling mistake in British English.

There are two common misconceptions among British speakers about -ize: the first is that -ize is an import from American English, or 'Americanism', which is not true; second, many vocal people believe that -ize 'is the correct spelling' (on the justification that the zeds come from Latin) and that it should never be -ise.

However, -ise is perfectly legitimate, which is why the BBC, the British boards of education, a majority of magazines and almost all newspapers use it. If -ise were 'wrong', wouldn't someone have picked up on it by now?


Careful writers don't use issue as a synonym for 'problem'.

iterate or reiterate?

If I say something once, I state it. If I say the same thing again, I iterate it. If I say it yet once more, I reiterate it.

Unfortunately a lot of people use reiterate to say they repeat something, when all they have to say is iterate. Shall I iterate?


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.