Confusing Pairs, Part 5

More in this series.

Dependant, dependent

The first is a noun, most commonly used to mean ‘a person who depends on another for support or position’ (He is a single man with no dependants). Dependent is the adjectival form of the noun (Each dependent child will receive a payment …) Dependent  also means, more generally, ‘contingent on or owing its existence to something else’ (Your success as an articling student is dependent on many factors, some of which may not be apparent to you).

In the US, dependant is almost never seen; Americans use dependent for both noun and adjective.

Guarantee, guaranty

A guaranty is ‘the action or an act of securing, warranting, or guaranteeing’. It also means ‘security’ or ‘warranty’, and, more particularly in law, ‘a written undertaking made by a person … to be answerable for the payment of a debt or the performance of an obligation by another person’.

A guarantee is similar, but slightly different: ‘a person or party that makes a guaranty or gives a security; a guaranteeing party’; ‘something given or existing as security, e.g. for fulfilment of an engagement or conditions’; and ‘a person to whom a guaranty is given’.

Clearly there is some overlap, and you’ll never go wrong if you use guarantee for all senses. Guaranty  is preferable where you mean ‘rather the act or fact of giving security than the security given or its giver’ (Fowler) – so, ‘a contract of guaranty‘.

Guaranty used to be the verb form; this is now always guarantee.

Historic, historical

These used to be used more or less interchangeably, but have parted company.

Historical now means ‘belonging to, constituting, or of the nature of history; in accordance with history; treating of, based on, or depicting events from history; based on an analysis of development over a period of time’.  For example, Your memo doesn’t need to provide a historical account of the law of unjust enrichment since Moses v Macferlan (1760); just give me an overview of the current state of Canadian law.’

Historic is now confined to the sense of ‘memorable’ or ‘worthy of a place in history’: On that historic day, the Dominion of Canada came into being.

One often sees an before these two adjectives (‘an historic occasion’), but this is unnecessary. The general rule is that you use an only before a word beginning with a silent H (so it is an honour, but a house). In front of historic, an is a hold-over from the days when an was usual before any word with an unaccented syllable beginning with H.               

Prostate, prostrate

The first is a gland that men have (Prostate cancer can be treated effectively if detected early).

The second means ‘to throw oneself to the ground in reverence or submission’, ‘to knock down’, ‘to overcome, to reduce to helplessness’, ‘to reduce to extreme physical weakness or exhaustion’. As in That combination of intense heat and humidity will prostrate those who attempt overly vigorous physical activity.

Prostrate is occasionally used for the gland, but this is ‘non-standard’ (which is to say, wrong).

Ware, wear

Wares (usually used only in the plural) are articles of merchandise or manufacture: Local hippies displayed their hideous wares in the market on the music festival grounds. Ware in the singular is less common, except where a descriptive word is tacked on: earthenware, glassware, hardware, silverware, software, tableware.

Wear, as a noun, can mean ‘what one wears or should wear’, as in men’s wear (often now compressed to menswear, not entirely properly). Outerwear and underwear are well-established, but there are less attractive coinages: beachwear, eyewear (can we not just say (eye)glasses or specs?), innerwear (used for underwear, but illogically; you don’t wear this stuff inside you, you wear it under other garments), knitwear (how about woollens?), nightwear, sleepwear, swimwear (OK, your humble scribe can’t think of better one-word terms for the last three, but they’re still icky).

 Next time: number

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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