by Lesley-Anne Longo
Published at 2016-11-03
In the TEC office this month, we have been discussing a number of words and phrases that are easily confused and/or misused. So, for our blog this week, we thought we would explain three tricky word pairings, and we hope you find them helpful. For yet another explanation of two word pairings, check out our October newsletter.
This set of words is a bit complicated. In 2014, the AP Stylebook announced that one of the changes they were making that year was more than and over were both deemed to be acceptable in all uses to denote a greater numerical value. The news caused a bit of a stir, with “over” a few editors decrying the change. However, this has actually been Chicago’s style for years, and as Laurence Urdang’s The Dictionary of Confusable Words states, “There is nothing formally wrong with using over for more than, and the only objection might be in defense of style. Those who do not like it need not use it, but they should be aware that the usage is well established in the language” (pp. 51).
Regarding better than, Urdang views it as a poor substitution for more than in absolute constructions (e.g., “There are better than 2000 books in that library”). In comparative constructions (e.g., “Two ice cream cones are better than one”), there’s not really any issue. If you struggle with deciding which to use, the difference is qualitative versus quantitative. If you’re referring to higher quality, you would use better than, and if you’re referring to a bigger quantity, you would use more than.
While you may have seen alright used in various print sources, most grammarians would agree that the correct form would be all right—alright is often considered poor style. The definition of all right is that it means adequate, permissible, or satisfactory. It can also be used to describe correctness, as in, those test answers are all right (they are all correct). So the rule would seem pretty simple: use all right, and avoid alright, all right? However, as Grammar Girl points out on her blog, one style guide (the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style) seems to contradict itself in its rule of how to properly use all right:
It states that “alright” as one word “has never been accepted as standard” but it then goes on to explain that “all right” as two words and “alright” as one word have two distinct meanings. It gives the example of the sentence “The figures are all right.” When you use “all right” as two words, the sentence means “the figures are all accurate.” When you write “The figures are alright,” with “alright” as one word, this source explains that the sentence means “the figures are satisfactory.”
However, because most other grammar sources recommend avoiding alright, it’s probably a good idea to stick with using all right. Alright as a word may be gaining a small following, but we believe it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Among and amongst are actually variants of one another. Among is more common in the US, and amongst is more common in Britain. The difference between either of these and between is that among or amongst is used in relation to discussing three or more items, and between is only used when considering two:
The Dictionary of Confusable Words explains that it’s unlikely you would come across a sentence such as “among the two of us,” however,
A sentence like, The four nations settled the differences between them is often heard or read if the emphasis is that the settlement was between any given pair of them: country A settled its differences separately with countries B, C, and D; country B separately with countries C and D, and so forth. (pp. 22)
In the above example, the use of between would be the proper choice, but it’s usually a good idea to avoid confusing the two.
I hope all of this hasn’t confused you too much! For more confusion, read Melissa’s blog, “4 More Commonly Misused Words” or Beth’s blog, “Alternate Spellings and Heart-Stopping Moments.”