About The Joy of English
View My Portfolio

macabre or macaber?

macabre (UK) macaber (US).


In British English, use it to mean something crazy or insane. In American Englishuse it to mean something akin to angry.

Madras or Chennai?

Nowadays it is Chennai.

Magna Charta or Magna Carta?

British English uses Magna Carta and American English uses Magna Charta.

Majorca or Mallorca?

The name Majorca is the English name for what is called Mallorca in Spanish. Use the former when referring to it in English, just as you would for example, Florence/Firenze.

manageable or managable?


manilla or manila?

The British of this fibrous paper product is manila. In US spelling, manila is to be preferred but manilla is accepted as an alternative by US dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster. The capital city is Manila.

manoeuvre or maneuver?

The British spelling is manoeuvre (note the -o-) and the US spelling is maneuver. These derive as manoeuvred and manoeuvrability (UK English) and maneuvered and maneuverability (US English) – note the -o- and -ver- and -vr- differences.

manoeuvring or maneuvering?

The British spelling is manoeuvring (not the -o-) and the US spelling is maneuvering.


To mark something, is to record , celebrate or make a point of it. Be careful not to use it in sentences like 'The 2009 will mark a turning point in global economics' without specifying the events that took place that year that make 2009 a turning point. A given year does not mark something by itself unless it's an anniversary of another marked event.

marshal or marshall?

The standard British spelling is marshal. In US spelling, marshal is preferred but marshall is accepted as an alternative by US dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster. The difference lies, however, in marshalling and marshalled (UK) and marshaling and marshaled (US).

marvellous or marvelous?

The standard British spelling is marvellous and the US spelling is marvelous.

massacre or massacer?

Both British and American English use the same -re spelling massacre. There is no such word as massacer.

math or maths?

The British word is always maths and the US word is always math. Both are shortened versions of mathematics.

matte, matt or mat?

In British English word matt means non-shiny surface, matte for the make-up/foundation as well as the photo/film technique involving superimposed images.

In American English matte is the same spelling for all three (mat is an alternative US spelling but rarely used).

The meaning comes from French word mat, meaning dead, from the 1600s. The -tte suffix is the feminine form first used on English in the 1800s, hence the different spellings. Oh, and mat is the name for a small carpet, from Latin matta.

Matthew or Mathew?

If you have ever wondered why there are two spellings of this name: Matthew derives from the Latin Matthaeus and Mathew derives from the French Mathieu. Now you know.

may as well or might as well?

Either: There is no significant difference between the two, so might as well just choose the one you like most.


The word is in the Oxford English Dictionary, so is a legitimate word.

meagre or meager?

The British use meagre and the Americans use meager.

mecca or Mecca?

The holy city is Mecca, while a popular place can informally be called a mecca.

medallist or medalist?

The British prefer medallist (though medalist is common) and the Americans use medalist.

media is or media are?

Click here for details.

mediaeval or medieval?

The correct spelling is medieval, although mediaeval is in minority use as a non-standard variant.

The original spelling is mediæval and the word dates from as recently as the 1820s, and is no older than that. That first spelling used a ligature -æ- (one letter) and was never originally -ae- (two letters). The modernisation of English spellings rendered it -e- on its own rather than the artificial separation -ae-. That is why 'mediaeval' is not the recommended spelling.

Do not write 'mediaevil' or 'medievil'.

meet or meet with?

Use the correct usage is meet on its own, not meet with and met with.

The older meaning of meet with was 'come across' [I was met with strong resistance], dating from the 1400s, or 'undergo, experience' [the proposal was met with the Mayor's approval].

memento or momento?

The correct spelling is memento., meaning 'souvenir'. This should no be confused with the spelling of momentous, 'of great significance'. Nor should it be confused with the loan phrase, 'un(o) momento' (Spanish).

mementos or mementoes?

The standard plural spelling is mementos and a variant is mementoes.

meteor or meteorite?

A meteor is space matter that enters the Earth's atmosphere and causes a streak of light in our sky as it burns up. A meteorite is any parts of such matter that survives and reaches the surface of our planet.

Mid east or Middle East?

Americans refer to this region os the world as the Mid East, whereas in British English it is called the Middle East. Do not swap the two.

milage or mileage?

mileage is the standard spelling in both the UK and the US. "milage" is a variant spelling.

milieus or milieux?

The more frequent plural spelling of milieu in the US is milieus, though milieux is preferred in formal contexts.

In British English, opinion is divided: milieux is preferred by the OED and the British National Corpus states that the frequency is 3:1 in favour. By contrast, the Guardian Style website prefers milieus.

Make sure that you do not spell it 'milieau'.

mischievous or mischievious?

The correct spelling is mischievous and it sounds like "Mische Vuss", with just three syllables.

It should not be pronounced with four syllables, as "Miss-CHEE-vee-us", despite popular (mis)conception. The OED states that this stressing of the second syllable (-CHEE-) was common in literature until around 1700 and adds that doing so is "now dialectal, vulgar, and jocular". You have been warned.

misdemeanour or misdemeanor?


mobile phone or cell phone?

mobile phone: Only Americans use a cell phone or cell, the rest of the world calls it a mobile phone or mobile.

modelling or modeling?

The British spellings are modelled and modelling and the American spellings are modeled and modeling.

mollusk or mollusc?

The British spelling is mollusc and the American spelling is mollusk. This follows the pattern of 'disc/disk' etc.

molt or moult?

The British spelling is moult and the American spelling is molt.

more than or over?

depends: When it comes to saying "The conference was attended by delegates from over 65 countries", the careful writer will always make sure to change 'over' to 'more than'. This keeps the true sense of the word 'over' to the meaning of being (physically) above something. "We flew over the city in a balloon and we could see more than 60 km in every direction".


See momentarily.

mongooses or mongeese?

The plural of mongoose is mongooses.

moonlit or moonlighted?

The British and US spelling for "light evening with the moon shining" is moonlit. The meaning of moonlighted is "having worked a second job".

Mother's Day or Mothers Day?

It is Mother's Day, with an apostrophe before the s.

motorist or driver?

A driver can be a motorist or a chauffeur, and a motorist can only be one of them. Motorist is a good word and shouldn't be shied away from. There are so many forms of drivers these days, why not use the unique for for those behind the wheel?

moustache or mustache?

The British spelling is moustache and the American spelling is mustache.

MSc or MS?

The British use MSc and Americans prefer MS.

mum or mom?

Always Mum in British and Australian English, and Mom in US and Canadian English.

Mumbai or Bombay?

Nowadays, a majority use Mumbai. The latest to make the sheepish switch was the Times newspaper, which was the only national news medium to write about the "Bombay" attacks in 2008, making it the odd one out among its peers.

mustache or moustache?

The British spelling is moustache and the American spelling is mustache.


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.