Gray Matters II


Now that you aced last week’s quiz, let’s see if you can replicate that feat. Again, in each sentence decide if both words are correct, only one is correct, or one is passable but the other is preferable.

1. When you mentioned your first job, you seemed to (allude/refer) to disillusionment.
2. The hospital has launched a program to promote (preventive/preventative) care.
3. Ann volunteered here (before/prior to) joining the staff.
4. Thank you for (complimenting/flattering) me on the article, but I couldn’t have developed it without Alex’s help.

The verdicts

In #2 both options are fine, but in the others only one is correct. Let’s delve into each pair.

1. “Allude” and “refer” are not synonyms. When we allude, our reference is indirect and often incomplete. When we refer, we take that action more purposefully. So in the example, because the speaker only hinted at a problem, the right word is “allude.”

2. “Preventive” and “preventative” mean the same thing. (I say why add a syllable and make the word more of a tongue twister, but you can’t go wrong.)

3. Plenty of people like “prior to,” perhaps because it seems classier than “before,” but to a purist these are not interchangeable. “Prior” should be used only as an adjective – as in “prior commitment.” Whenever we write “prior to,” we are not committing a great sin, but the simple “before” is the right choice.

4. The difference between a compliment and flattery is sincerity. If someone flatters us, we need to beware that the person might be angling for something in return. So if we’re both being honest in #4, the correct word is “complimenting.”

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