May vs. Might

wish I may

In casual usage, people interchange may and might. However, there is a slight difference that is useful to know.

May means something is more likely to happen.
Might means something is less likely to happen.

Examples:
There may be food at the party.
There might be someone dressed in a killer whale costume at the party.

What’s a party without food? It’s very likely there would at least be hors d’oeuvres there; that’s why we use may. But, I know I have never been to a party where someone was dressed as a killer whale. It’s safe to say you’d be less likely to encounter that (unless you were going to a killer whale costume party), which is why we use might.

Think of degrees of likelihood. The closer the situation is to “will happen,” use may. The closer it is to “won’t happen,” use might.

Note that this does not apply to past tense. The past tense of may is might. Why? Because English loves to be confusing! So, if you are writing or speaking in the past tense, always use might.

Quiz:

Choose may or might for each sentence.

1) I’m feeling lucky today. I _____ win the big jackpot.
2) I _____ eat a cookie today, just as I do every day.
3) There _____ be a huge asteroid careening toward Earth that will land on my front lawn.
4) Eight hundred higher-qualified candidates applied for the job, but Clyde _____ get the position.
5) Clyde is the only person who applied for the job. He _____ just get it!

Answers:
1) might 2) may 3) might 4) might 5) may

Erin Servais is a book editor who can make your manuscript look polished and professional. To learn more about how she can help you, visit www.dotanddashllc.com.

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Penultimate vs. Ultimate

Many people use “penultimate” to mean “more than ultimate,” but the word actually has a very narrow (and different) definition. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says:

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 9.06.18 AM

So in a list, “penultimate” would refer to the next-to-last item. On a train ride, it would mean the next-to-last stop.

chickens

And in this photo of fantastic chickens, the chicken on the left would be the “penultimate chicken.”

What Does “Ultimate” Mean?
Ultimate,” however, has multiple meanings.

One is “final.”
Example: Harry’s “ultimate” destination is Mars.

Another is “eventual.”
Example: Harry’s “ultimate” goal is universal domination.

It also means “fundamental.”
Example: Harry’s “ultimate” nature is pure evil.

Now you know, and you can correct your friends much to their chagrin (just like I do)!

Erin Servais is a book editor who can help your book be the ultimate. Contact her today about your publishing goals: www.dotanddashllc.com.

Hanger vs. Hangar

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This spooky aircraft rests in a hangar when it is not flying in super secret missions.

A hangar is an enclosed shelter used to house something, such as airplanes.

A common mistake is to misspell hangar with an E.

However, a hanger is the item used to hang things, such as clothes.

Examples:

  • Jim Bob piloted the mysterious, abandoned UFO into the hangar.
  • Cathy arranged her clothes hangers evenly in her closet.
  • The billionaire’s hangar held both his jet and his helicopter.
  • The driver used a bent hanger to coax the locked car door open.

 

Erin Servais is a book editor who enjoys teaching writers along the way. To learn about hiring her for your next project, please visit her website: Dot and Dash LLC.

Imminent vs. eminent

imminent: ready to take place
eminent: standing out so as to be readily perceived or noted; conspicuous
—Merriam-Webster

Imminent usage
Imminent is an adjective that describes something (such as an event) that is going to happen soon. It can be negative or positive.

Examples:
One cannot dismiss the imminent danger of climate change.
Al has only three pieces of the jigsaw puzzle left. Completion is imminent.

Eminent usage
Eminent is an adjective that describes something (such as a person) that is famous and popular (the best in a category). It is usually positive.

Examples:
Heath is the eminent researcher in his field.
The new skyscraper has become the eminent symbol of the town.

Remember the difference
To tell imminent and eminent apart, think that imminent means immediate. (In actuality, the event imminent describes doesn’t have to happen right away, but simply soon. Still, it helps as a mnemonic.)

Quiz
Test your imminent and eminent skills with a quiz. The answers are at the end.

  1. After winning the award, Dottie was known as the _______ chef in town.
  2. Daryl’s bad test score meant failing the class was _______.
  3. The thought of the _______ glee the cookies will bring made Kevin smile.
  4. The _______ product sold the most units.

Answers: 1. eminent 2. imminent 3. imminent 4. eminent

Gray vs. grey

Gray and grey are both correct spellings for that almost-black color, but choosing which to use depends on where you live.

If you are in the United States, gray is more common. If you are in another English-speaking country, grey is preferred.

You can remember this by noting the A and the E in the words:

In America, use grAy.
In England, use grEy.

(But, of course, don’t forget Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. They use grey too.)