English usage | Sunday Observer

English usage

23 July, 2023

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

Overlay / overlie

‘Overlay’ means ‘to cover or be on top of something.’

The wood is overlaid with silver.

‘Overlie’ means ‘to lie over something.’ Clay overlies chalk in the mountain. Heavy clouds have overlain the mountains.

Overlook / oversee / overseer

To overlook is to fail to notice or perceive or to disregard. It also means ‘to view from a higher position.’

‘Oversee’ means ‘to be in charge of a group of workers and check that a piece of work is done satisfactorily.’

A team leader was appointed to oversee the project.

An overseer is someone who is in charge of a project or group of workers. It is a synonym for ‘supervisor.’

Overstay / overstep

‘Overstay’ means ‘to stay somewhere longer than you are allowed to.’

Robinson overstayed his visa and was arrested.

‘Overstep’ means ‘to do something that is not acceptable or allowed.’

Roger has overstepped the bounds of acceptable behaviour.


As an adverb ‘overseas’ means ‘to or in a foreign country that is across the sea’

Bill is going to work overseas.

As an adjective ‘overseas’ means ‘coming from, existing in or happening in a foreign country that is across the sea.’

There are many overseas students in our universities.

Overtone / undertone

Both these words, taken from a musical analogy, are used metaphorically.

‘Overtone’ means ‘signs of an emotion or attitude that is not expressed directly.’

There were overtones of anger in his voice.

‘Undertone’ means ‘a feeling or quality that is not directly expressed but can still be recognised.’

There was an undertone of sadness in her letter.

Owing to / due to

‘Owing to’ is a preposition meaning ‘because of something.’

Owing to a lack of funds the light railway project will not be launched immediately.

‘Due to’ is a preposition meaning ‘because of something.’

The Court of Inquiry ruled that the crash was due to pilot error.

Too often ‘owing to’ is used clumsily in place of ‘because, since’ or ‘as.’ As a preposition it is a better phrase than ‘due to.’

Owing to a signal failure, trains will be running late.


‘Panacea’ is something that people think will make everything better and solve all their problems.

There is no panacea for Sri Lanka’s economic problems.

Pandit / pundit

In India a pandit is a learned man or scholar. ‘Pundit’ is used to describe anyone who claims to be an expert or a specialist in a particular subject.


‘Panic’ means ‘a sudden strong feeling of fear or nervousness that makes you unable to think clearly or behave sensibly.’

The children fled in panic.

Thelma suffers from terrible panic attacks.

As a verb ‘panic’ means ‘to suddenly feel so frightened that you cannot think clearly or behave sensibly.’

Bernie started to panic when she saw a gun in the intruder’s hand.

‘A panic button’ is a button that you can press to call for help if you are being attacked.

Para –

There are two prefixes with the form ‘para,’ one of Greek and one of Latin origin. The Greek prefix means ‘beside, beyond’ or ‘aside’ found in words such as paradox, paraphrase or parallel. The Latin prefix means ‘guard against’ found in ‘parachute, parapet’ and ‘parasol.’

Paradox / paradoxically

A paradox is a situation that seems strange because it involves two ideas or qualities that are very different.

It is a paradox that such a rich country there can be so much poverty.

The adverb ‘paradoxically’ means ‘in a way that is surprising because it is the opposite of what you would expect.’

Paradoxically, the increase in price has caused a higher demand for alcoholic drinks.