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Ukraine or the Ukraine?

It’s just Ukraine, not ‘the Ukraine’.

ultraviolet or ultra-violet?

ultraviolet: .

Uluru or Ayer's Rock?

The Aboriginal site is Uluru.

unbenownst or unbeknown?

unbeknown: Like 'whilst', 'amidst' and 'amongst', 'unbeknownst' harks back to an older form of English that sounds overly formal and stilted in today's usage. Few people say 'hither' and 'thither' like they did not so long ago; we say 'here and there'. Using -st forms like these are still popular -- championed, even -- in pretentious language. The more modern forms are while, among, amid and unbeknown. It is much easier to say "amid the confusion" than "amidst the confusion". Take note, too, that the -st forms are rarely encountered in American English, no matter how much they are loved by a minority few in Britain. Use superfluous -st endings by all means, if you really want to, but there is absolutely no need for you to use them -- nor obligation.

See also the full-length article English usage: whilst or while?

uncharted or unchartered?

It’s uncharted waters, meaning 'not yet mapped'. Unchartered means 'not yet signed into charter or constitution'.

underway or under way?

Two words, always.

unexpressive or inexpressive?

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.


If something is unique, there is only one. More than just being an overused word, it’s an absolute. There can only be one. It can’t be “quite unique” or “very unique”. I’ll apologise to all of the advertisers now.

universe or Universe?

universe: Use a lowercase U.

unmistakeable or unmistakable?

The standard spelling in all forms of English is unmistakable.

unrivalled or unrivaled?

British spelling uses -ll- for unrivalled and American spelling is -l-, so unrivaled

unshakeable or unshakable?

The standard spelling in all forms of English is unshakable.


An overused word for announced, presented or released. You can unveil a covered artwork by removing the veil.


Good writers avoid this one. What does downcoming mean? Use coming.

useable or usable?

The standard British and American spelling is usable.

US or U.S.?

You can always tell that signs in American movies supposedly written by protesting people in the Middle East have been written by American set designers. How? Because they all feature hand-written signs emblazoned with some statement denouncing the U.S. – rather than the more common US of British English. American English prefers to retain the full points, but this is a practice not used outside the US. O.K.!

U-turn or u turn?

U-turn, with a hyphen and a capital U.

utmost or uppermost, upmost?

The adjective utmost has the meaning 'greatest, most extreme', while the word uppermost means 'highest in rank or order'. The spelling upmost is a shortened variant of uppermost and has the same meaning. utmost and upmost are therefore not synonyms.


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.