Are Reticent and Reluctant Synonyms?

Recent posts have been about misused and misunderstood words, inspired by the American Heritage Dictionaries* editors.Here’s another to add to your vocabulary: reticent and reluctant.

Are reticent and reluctant synonyms? Well…yes and no. Remember my rant about decimate? The term that technically refers to removing one/tenth of a given population has evolved in usage as a synonym for annihilate. Usage has confused the word reticent, too.

Reticent people are reserved, especially among strangers. They may be reluctant to talk about themselves, but that doesn’t make them reluctant in all things.

So don’t apply the adjective reticent when you mean reluctant. I am not reticent, but I’m reluctant to gamble large amounts of money in a casino.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention remiss, another word often confused with reluctant. Remiss means negligent or careless. If you’re remiss in your job duties, it may be because you’re reluctant to perform the work, but the two words aren’t synonymous. 

*Houghton Mifflin Books, 2004:100 words almost everyone confuses & misuses

Flammable or Inflammable?

Here is another word choice dilemma for you: Flammable and Inflammable. If you look up definitions for the words, they read the same: Easily ignited and combustible. Inflammable (or inflame), while correct, is confusing because of the prefix “in.” Some words  are made negative with the “in” prefix (Inert, inglorious, inconceivable). Inflammable, however, means flammable. So which is correct?

While inflammable is a word, Grammar Cop strongly suggests you use flammable. For safety reasons, you don’t want anyone mistaking inflammable for unflammable.

Incredulous Grammar Cop Is Nauseated

If you’re one of the millions of viewers who watch BIG BANG THEORY, you’ve been treated to Sheldon Cooper’s numerous grammar lectures. One of my favorites is about nauseous versus nauseated. He says people often say they’re nauseous when they mean they’re nauseated.

I have a similar pet peeve with incredible versus incredulous. Do you use incredulous correctly?

Wrong: She felt incredulous guilt for her father’s death.

Correct: She felt incredible guilt for her father’s death.

Both are adjectives. Incredible means implausible or extraordinary. Incredulous means disbelieving or skeptical. A trick that helps me is substituting the synonym skeptical. If the synonym makes no sense, I’ve used incredulous incorrectly. (e.g. Skeptical grammar cop is nauseated)

Wrong:  That news story is simply incredulous.(You wouldn’t write That news story is simply skeptical.)

Correct: He read the news story, incredulous that anyone would believe such nonsense.

The bottom line: Use incredulous sparingly and never when you should use incredible.

Bonus: If you don’t watch BIG BANG THEORY, nauseated means you feel as if you might vomit. Nauseous means to induce nausea. Again, nauseous is seldom used and rarely used correctly. Just remember if you feel icky, you’re nauseated. If your body odor makes those around you feel icky, you’re nauseous. ;-)

Those Confounded Compounds

Cheryl Norman:

Re-posting for the author who asked about awhile and a while.

Originally posted on Cheryl Norman - Grammar Cop:

Do compound words confound you? For instance, when do you use everyday and when is it every day? Or the one I struggle with most–awhile. Or is it a while? As usual, the answer is: It depends.

Awhile is an adverb meaning a short period of time. It should be used with a verb.

She stopped working awhile and had a cup of tea.

A while (two words) can mean any length of time and acts as a noun.

She stopped working for a while and had a cup of tea.

Unfortunately, you’ll see awhile misused in the press. Ignorance? To save print space? Who knows.

Words like everyday or anytime are used as adjectives.

Red wine vinegar is her everyday vinegar.

Words like Every day and any day are two words when used as adverbs.

She uses red wine vinegar every day.
She uses red wine…

View original 89 more words

Thunder and Lightning

It’s summer, and that means thunderstorms. A common spelling/grammar mistake I see is the use of the word lightening. Let’s clear up the confusion.

Lightening means to add light or to dilute the tint of a color.

She tried lightening her hair, but it turned an odd shade of red.

Lightning is an atmospheric phenomena typically seen during thunderstorms.

Ben Franklin attracted lightning with a metal key attached to a kite.

Remember, if it’s in the sky, it’s spelled without the e. 


Happy Father’s Day!

In case you didn’t know, today is the Sunday in June we honor the fathers in our lives. You may be tempted to call it “Fathers’ Day” or “Fathers Day” to pluralize it. However, the official (and Grammar Cop-accepted) holiday is called Father’s Day.

If you honor more than one father or dad, remember to use the correct plural form, fathers or dads. There is no apostrophe!

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads.


What will you do today in observance of National Grammar Day? I’m revisiting the comma.

It amazes me how people struggle with comma placement. It’s simple, logical, and important to place commas correctly. Here are some basic rules to remember.

  1. Separate two independent clauses joined by a conjunction with a comma. The hotel room was tiny, but the rate was ridiculously high.
  2. Separate independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction with a period. (Or ! or ?) The hotel room was tiny. The rate was ridiculously high.
  3. Separate introductory elements from an independent clause with a comma. That evening, we crashed in our tiny hotel room.
  4. Do not use a comma to offset an element that is essential to the meaning of the independent clause. We were packed and ready to leave when the bellhop arrived.
  5. Avoid commas within clauses. What we liked best about the hotel was its workout room.

There are other rules about comma use, but master these first and you’ll be well on your way to grammar goodness. March forth on March fourth!