wail or whale?
Forget Moby Dick for a second -- who is of course the famous whale -- and remember that a singer will wail a song, a bully will whale on his victim and a drummer will whale on the drum, so too will a guitarist.
wake of, in the
Overused. Prefer as a result (of) or after.
The US meaning of wash up is to wash your face. The British meaning is to do the dishes.
water proof or waterproof?
web site or website?
The standard British spelling is website and there is a strong US preference for web site, though website is also common.
at the weekend or on the weekend?
In the UK the correct usage is at the weekend, while in the US it is on the weekend.
weiner or wiener?
This little conundrum is reserved for Americans, who like to call a certain type of sausage a wiener. The only problem is that many mistakenly spell it 'weiner'. The name comes from the Austrian city Wien, or Vienna in English.
well or good?
Well is an adverb and good is an adjective. Use adverbs to describe verbs (play, sing, work etc) and adjectives to describe nouns (things). That's how we get: "Your writing is really good. You write well." Remember that sports teams don't 'play good', but well.
Just remember that if someone is so famous that they are well known, you probably don’t have to mention that they are well known. On the other hand, it’s understandable if you write: ‘He is a well known figure in the rap world/Middle East/Peckham area.’
well-known or well known?
when all is said and done
The overused expression "when all is said and done" is a meaningless phrase. Turn it into finally or ultimately to sharpen your writing.
whence or whence of?
If you are going to use this archaic word, use it right: whence, not "from whence". Whence means "where from/from where", so why not just use that?
when push comes to shove
The overused expression "when push comes to shove" is a meaningless phrase. Turn it into finally or ultimately to sharpen your writing.
whether or whether or not?
The adding of 'or not' to whether doesn't add anything to the meaning. In most cases, whether is used as a pompous synonym of if. "We don't know whether the performance is going ahead." However, use whether or not when there are two alternatives of equal weight. "Whether or not you decide to come to town with us or stay at home, it won't influence our decision."
whereabouts is or whereabouts are?
The runaway banker’s whereabouts is not known.
whilst or while?
Click here for details.
whiskey or whisky?
Distilled malts from Scotland and Canada are called 'Whisky', and the same thing from Ireland or the US spell theirs 'Whiskey' – regardless of what It is made from.
whizz or whiz?
whizz is the preferred spelling in the OED and whiz is labelled as "chiefly US" spelling. whiz is the preferred spelling in my US dictionary and whizz is listed there as a variant.
who or that?
Use who for people and groups of people. Use that for companies and organisations.
who or whom?
A lot of people think that whom is doomed. Use whom when who is used as an object (he > him, she > her, who > whom).
Some claim, because of the logic behind who/that (above), that whose can't be used for inanimate objects. What else is there apart from the need to re-write? We want to acknowledge the building, whose significance is often overlooked.
with or to?
There is growing influence from the informal US use of speak with and talk with. The correct forms is all forms of English remains speak to and talk with in examples like "I spoke to your neighbour yesterday".
Although many Americans will insist that speak with and talk with are perfectly acceptable, such constructions should still be compared with correct forms like speak with a lisp / speak with confidence as well as talk with an accent / talk with a whisper.
with all due respect
An overused and (often) meaningless phrase.
woollen or woolen?
woollen: British spelling uses the -ll- variant for both woollen and woolly, while Americans write woolen and wooly.
worldwide or world wide?
worldwide web or world wide web?
It’s worldwide web.
worshipped or worshiped?
worshipped: British spelling uses the -pp- variant for both 'worshipped' and 'worshipping', while Americans write 'worshiped' and 'worshiping'.
And you thought that the world was running out of cliches. Best avoided, no need to state the obvious.
if the worst comes to the worst
if the worst comes to the worst: This popular phrase always includes the word 'the', while Americans often say "if worst comes to worst" or "worse comes to worse".
write to me or write me?
Americans are famous for using write me while in British English it is write to me. It would be easy to take a cheap shot at this apparent oddity, but in all fairness it falls in line with every other form of communication: call me; e-mail me; text me; SMS me; and CC me. So who are the odd ones?.
wrought or wreaked?
In a sentence like "The winter storm wrought havoc on the coastal infrastructure", it might be safe to assume that wrought is the past tense of wreak. It is not. The past tense of wreak havoc is wreaked havoc. On the other hand, wrought up means to be upset.
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.