English usage | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

English usage

19 March, 2023

This is a guide to help learners to communicate easily in both speech and writing through a better understanding of the English language.

Lath / lathe
A lath is a thin strip of wood used with others to form the base for supporting tiles or plaster on a ceiling, wall or roof.
A lathe is a machine used for wood or metal work.
Latter / former
‘Latter’ is the second of two people or things just mentioned.
‘Former’ is the first of two people or things that you have just mentioned.
Of the two possibilities, the former seems more likely.
The word ‘latter’ should be used only in contrast with the ‘former’ when the choice is between two people or items comparable in kind.
As a general rule, it is preferable to avoid using the terms ‘former’ and ‘latter’ and instead to refer to ‘first’ and ‘last.’
Mary bought a dress, two pairs of shoes and a handbag, the last mentioned in real leather.
Laudable / laudatory
‘Laudable’ means ‘deserving praise, even if not completely successful.’
They made a laudable attempt to win the game.
‘Laudatory’ means ‘expressing praise.’
A laudatory biography has been written on the former Indian President Abdul Kalam.
Lawful / legal
‘Lawful’ means ‘allowed or recognised by law.’
It is not lawful to kill your pets. If something is legal, you are allowed to do it or have to do it by law.
What he has done is perfectly legal.
People seek legal advice when there is a dispute.
Anne threatened to take legal action against the hospital.
Lawyer / Proctor / Advocate / Attorney-at-Law / Notary
A lawyer is someone whose job is to advise people about laws, write formal agreements or represent people in court. In the past lawyers were known as Proctors and Advocates. Today lawyers are known as Attorneys-at-Law.
A notary is someone who has the legal power to make signed documents or deeds. The full term is Notary Public.
Leading question
This is a question which is so worded that it leads the recipient to give the answer which the questioner wants. It does not mean a hostile or important question but one so worded that it incorporates a strong suggestion which is often attempted in a court of law. The expression is loosely used to mean an unfair question.
The verb ‘leap’ means ‘to jump high into the air or to jump in order to land in a different place.’ The past tense and past participle is ‘leapt.’
Monkeys can leap from tree to tree.
The child leapt over the fence.
The word ‘leap’ also means ‘to move very quickly and with a lot of energy.’
Diana leapt out of bed.
As a noun ‘leap’ means ‘a big jump.’
I threw a ball into the river and the dog went after it in a flying leap.
‘A leap in the imagination’ means ‘a mental process that is needed to understand something difficult or see the connection between two very different ideas.’
A leap year occurs every four years when February has 29 days instead of 28.
The word ‘learn’ means ‘to gain knowledge of a subject or skill, by experience, by studying it or by being taught.’ The past tense and past participle are ‘learned’ or ‘learnt.’ Since there is an adjective ‘learned,’ it avoids confusion if ‘learnt’ is chosen as the preferred form for the verb.
A learned person has a lot of knowledge because they have read and studied a lot.
Least / at least
The word ‘least’ is a determiner. ‘At least’ means ‘not less than a particular number or amount.’
It will take you at least two hours to reach Colombo.
The phrase ‘not the least’ means ‘none at all’
I tried to teach them English, but they were not in the least interested.
In speech we use ‘It’s the least I can do’ to say that you are very willing to do something.
I will look after the child, it’s the least I can do.
Legend / myth
A legend is an old well-known story often about brave people, adventures or magical events.
Local legend has it that the island was the original Garden of Eden.
The word ‘legendary’ means ‘very famous.’
Amaradeva’s singing is legendary. A myth is an idea or story that many people believe but which is not true.
Contrary to popular myth, most road accidents are not the result of speeding.
The word ‘mythology’ is a set of ancient myths.