English usage | Page 3 | Sunday Observer

English usage

21 May, 2023

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

Militate / mitigate

‘Militate against’ (phrasal verb) means ‘to prevent something or make it less likely to happen.’

Environmental factors militate against clearing jungles to put up factories.

‘Mitigate’ means ‘to make a situation or the effects of something less unpleasant, harmful or serious.’

We have to take measures to mitigate the environmental effects of burning coal.

‘Mitigating circumstances or factors’ are facts about a situation that make a crime seem less serious.

The lawyer presented mitigating factors so that the judge could impose a reduced sentence. Imelda’s gentle words successfully mitigated her husband’s anger.


‘Million’ is the number 1,000,000.

His latest novel sold more than a million copies.

‘Million’ also means ‘an extremely large number of people or things.’

Swapna has millions of fans.

A millionaire is someone who is very rich and has at least a million pounds, dollars or rupees.

‘Million’ is generally spelt without an ‘s’ when it stands for a definite number.

More than two million civilians died in the war.

The plural ‘millions’ is used when it refers to money.

His property was worth millions.

Minimal / minimalism

‘Minimal’ means ‘very small in degree or amount, especially the smallest degree or amount possible.’

The course will have only a minimal amount of theory.

‘Minimalism’ is a style of art, design or music that uses only very simple ideas or patterns.

Minimum / maximum

‘Minimum’ is the smallest amount of something or number of things possible.

The judge ordered the accused to serve a minimum of 12 years in prison.

‘Bare minimum’ is the very least amount or number.

Prisoners are kept in tiny cells, with the bare minimum of furniture.

‘Minimum wage’ is the lowest amount of money that an employer can legally pay to a worker.

Most manual workers get a minimum wage.

The maximum amount, quantity or speed is the largest that is possible or allowed.

The company is making the maximum use of the resources available. ‘Maximise’ means ‘to increase something such as profit or income as much as possible.’

Most companies try to get maximum profit.

Minority / majority

‘Minority’ is a small group or things within a much larger group.

Only a minority of employees support the new budget proposals. Ethnic minorities face prejudice in many countries.

A minority government does not have enough politicians in parliament.

Do not use ‘minority’ to mean ‘a few’ or ‘a very small number.’

When ‘minority’ is considered as a collection of individuals, we use a plural verb.

A minority of the shareholders had strong objections.

‘Majority’ means ‘most of the people or things in a group.’

The majority of workers find it difficult to live on the money they earn.

When using ‘majority’ before ‘of’ and a plural noun, use a plural verb after it

The vast majority of patients are elderly.

In everyday English we usually say ‘most of’ rather than ‘the majority.’

Most of the teachers find it hard to live on the money they earn.


‘Mis’ is a prefix meaning ‘bad or badly.’

It is now the normal practice not to hyphenate words made with the prefix ‘mis’:

Misspell, misstatement, misbehaviour, misfortune, miscalculation, misunderstanding, mistrust, misadventure, misalliance, misapply, misappropriate, misbehave, miscarriage, miscast, mischief, miscount, misdeed, misdiagnose, misdirect, misfire, misfit, misfortune, misguided, mishandle, mishear, misinform, misjudge, mislead, mismanage, mismatch, misplace, misprint, mispronounce, misquote, misread, misreport, misrepresent, misrule

Momentary / momentous

‘Momentary’ means ‘continuing for a very short time.’

There was a momentary pause. A momentous event, change or decision is very important because it will have a great influence on the future.

The President’s decision was a momentous one for the future of the country.