Mind the Gaffe

Alter, Change, Modify, Transform

Alter suggests change as in this sentence the clothes have to be made a different size.

Modify also gives the idea of change but usually in a technical sense as in modify a computer so that it can accept new programs.

To modify is to change (something) slightly to fit a different use: the design of the engine was modified.

To transform means to change completely. A lump of clay needs to be transformed to be made into a piece of art.

‘change’ is more commonly used.

He has changed since I last saw him; London has changed a lot in the last ten years. I would like to alter the time of my appointment; when he came out of prison he had altered completely.

Now, ‘alter’ is not used to mean:

1. Put on different clothes: if you want me to mend the car, I’ll have to change into my old clothes.

2. Give something in place of something else: can you change a $5 note? I must change the car tyres; she wants to change her travellers’ cheques.

3. Get off one train to catch another which will take you to your destination: you will have to change (trains) at Birmingham.


British English: if the worst comes to the worst

American English: if worse/worst comes to worst



Seldon, Rarely, Hardly, Barely, Scarcely

While ”seldom” and “rarely” say how often something happens, the others say how easily something happens:

“I can hardly/barely/scarcely do that”

“that happens seldom/rarely

Wider Choice or Broader Choice

I think you can say both ‘wide choice’ and ‘broad choice’. But if we have to choose only one, I would choose “wide choice”.

“Broad” means “large across”, i.e., “great in the extent from side to side”. “Wide” also can be used in this sense. But “wide” is much wider in the sense than “broad”. The first definition of “wide” is “large in area or in space”.

“Wide” and “broad” both can mean figuratively “great in the number of persons or things that are contained, affected, applied, related, etc.”. But this usage began only recently (19 century) for “broad” while “wide” for this sense was used as early as in 16 century. As the result, in Australian English, they seldom say “broad choice” (googlily 600 against 327,000 for “wide choice”. Americans are more tolerant to the use of “broad choice”. You will find “broad choice” in 148,000 pages of COM domain against 2,140,000 COM pages for “wide choice”. In classic novels, no writer used “broad choice” (zero hit in Gutenberg against 74 hits for “wide choice”).


a fifteen-year-old boy, not a fifteen-years-old boy


The war went on from 1939 to 1945;

The war went on between 1939 and 1945;

The war went on 1939-1945.



Yo-yo not yoyo


analyse (British English) analyze (American English)







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