Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Tag: spelling

Metre Vs Meter

Meter and metre. Isn’t it the same thing just spelt differently in American and British English? Well, yes and no.

Metre… Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Yes, meter is the American spelling of metre, a unit of length that equals 100 centimetres.

The fence is about a metre and a half high. (Note the British English spelling!)

In British English, however, a meter is a machine that measures something, be it the amount of gas/water/electricity you’ve used or the amount of money you must pay.

… and meter. Image by analogicus from Pixabay

A few times a year Thames Water sends their engineers round to check water meter readings.

As the taxi was moving slowly through the traffic jam, she looked nervously at the meter wondering if she had enough money to pay for the trip.

This is a Pay and Display car park, but as the parking meter is broken you can park free of charge.

Easy, eh?

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Enquiry Vs Inquiry

If you look up the word enquiry in the online Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, you’ll see no definition but the following remark especially British English another spelling of inquiry‘. To find out what ‘enquiry’ means, you need to click on ‘inquiry’ in bold type.

Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay

This is another curious case. Both enquiry and inquiry can mean question, inquest or investigation and be used interchangeably. However, in the UK there’s a slowly growing tendency to use inquiry to refer to the official process to find out about something,

e.g. The villagers are demanding a public inquiry into the fire that destroyed the local school.

whereas the use of enquiry is becoming preferable to mean a question as in

I’d like to make an enquiry about your language courses.

One day enquiry and inquiry are likely to start living their separate lives, but until then you can use whichever you prefer (inquiry is more widely accepted in American English).

Now you know!

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Programme Vs Program

The word programme has several meanings.

The one you’re certainly familiar with is something you watch on TV or listen to on the radio as in What’s your favourite TV programme?

It can mean plan or a series of actions as in

The ambitious reform programme developed by a group of independent politicians got no support from the government.

and 

What’s the programme for tomorrow?

Another meaning is a leaflet that gives information about a play, concert etc.

She collects theatre programmes.

By contrast, program is a set of instructions given to a computer, i.e. All word processing programs these days have built-in grammar- and spelling-checkers.

There’s no such distinction in American English where one spelling program covers all of the above mentioned meanings.

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Is it all right if it’s alright?

You must have come across both variants, probably wondering which one is more preferable. Well, the quick answer to this question is all right.

The tea was all right.

Unlike much older mergers such as altogether and already that are fully acceptable, using alright, especially in formal writing, is still highly likely to make your readers think that your English is far from perfect.

So play it safe and use all right.

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The Mysterious Case of the Word ‘Ghost’

Have you ever questioned the purpose of the silent H in ‘ghost’? It’s absolutely useless, but there’s a great story behind it.

It goes back to William Caxton, an English merchant and diplomat, who lived in the 15th century. While in Germany, he became familiar with Gutenberg’s latest invention – the printing press, – and liked the idea so much that he set up one of his own in Flanders.

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