Are You a Master of the English Language?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

The English language is said to be devilishly hard for foreigners to learn. Hey, it's not so easy for us native speakers, either! How are your English chops? Find out now with our quiz!

What is wrong with the phrase "It will be a honor"?

Some people would tell you that "a" is correct here, because the word "honor" starts with a consonant. However, it starts with a silent consonant -- meaning that in practice, the word begins with a vowel sound. That's why "an" is necessary, for clarity.

A noun that is a name, and is usually capitalized, is called a _____.

A proper noun is essentially the same thing as a name. "Lake Baikal" is a proper noun, whereas "lake" is not.

The opposite of a proper noun is a _______ noun.

Common nouns identify a type of object, not a specific one. It's what we mean when we say, "The world is full of dancers, but there was only one Gregory Hines."

Finish the sentence: "If I had known she wanted to come along, I ______ waited."

"Would of" is a corruption of "would've" (they sound exactly the same spoken aloud). But if you actually write "would of," you're being ungrammatical.

What is this mark (^) called ?

"Caret" is Latin for "it lacks." It's more often used in handwriting, to add a missing word above the spot in a sentence where it belongs.

Which of the following marks is a semicolon?

A semicolon allows you to link up two complete sentences without creating a run-on; you use it to show that two independent clauses are thematically linked. (Pretty sly, how we illustrated that, eh?)

Is "irregardless" a word?

Merriam-Webster's helpful site politely calls this one "nonstandard." Which is their way of saying that yes, it's in usage enough to be considered a real word ... but also an excellent way to get jumped on by grammar nerds. You're better off sticking with "regardless."

What is wrong with the following sentence? "The teacher took a deep breathe and carried on with the lecture."

"Breath" is the noun, and is rhymes with "Beth." "Breathe" is the verb form, pronounced like "leave."

The word "it's" is best defined as ...

This can confuse English-language learners. Whereas possessives are often formed with an apostrophe ("Joan's car"), the pronoun "it" does not use one. Example: "The stag was scraping its antlers on an oak tree."

Finish the sentence: "Are you _____ that he stole that bicycle?"

It's likely that the missing word should be "implying", as that means "strongly hinting." However, it could be "inferring," which means "drawing a conclusion." These two words are often mixed up with each other. One way to remember it: What one person implies, another infers.

Finish the sentence: "Vera _______ from Greg's polite refusal that he didn't have enough money to go out to dinner."

Here is "inferred" used correctly -- Vera doesn't know for sure that Greg doesn't have the money, but she generally gets that idea. You infer something when it isn't made explicitly clear. In other words, if someone yells "Get out!" you're not "inferring" that they want you gone; you know it.

What differentiates "farther" from "further"?

In other words, you drive ten miles, then find your destination is five miles farther down the road. But you study psychology as an undergrad, then pursue further study in grad school.

When is the word "West" correctly capitalized?

You drive "west," but you go "out West" for school. Fun fact: Even Americans who were born on the Pacific coast say "out West" and "back East." It's built into the architecture of American English that the East Coast is where America begins and the West is its faraway edge, even though that's a dated idea in the 21st century.

Which word is wrong in the following sentence? "Climactic conditions caused the birds to start migrating later in the year."

This one's an easy one to miss, but "climatic" is a word relating to climate. If the conditions were a thrilling conclusion to something, then they'd be "climactic" (from "climax").

What is wrong with the following sentence? "Climate conditions didn't let Yusuf take the car out until Thursday."

If it's changed by Thursday, we're obviously talking about weather, not climate. If the climate truly didn't allow Yusuf to take a car out, he'd have to own a snowmobile instead (or a raft, or whatever).

If you are "nauseous," what is wrong with you?

We seriously hope you're not "nauseous," which means "nausea-inspiring." The correct term for feeling sick to your stomach is "nauseated."

Nouns that are either singular or plural are called _____ nouns.

"Truck/trucks" is a count noun, meaning simply that they can be counted. "Anger" is a non-count noun: we can't count it, only describe its intensity or quality.

Which of the following is NOT true?

Adverbs alter the meaning of verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. And many actually do not have the "-ly" ending. For example, the word "tomorrow" is often an adverb. In the sentence "Tomorrow we will finish cleaning the garage," it modifies the verb "will finish," clarifying when we'll do that.

True or false: "Flammable" and "inflammable" mean the same thing.

Improbably, it's true: These seeming antonyms mean the same thing. "Inflammable" means "capable of bursting into flame" because its root word is "inflame." But "flammable" was created because the less educated could mistake the first two letters, "in," for the prefix "in-" and read "inflammable" as "not capable of catching fire." (That would be a bad mistake!)

Which word is misspelled in the following sentence? "Although dilatory, the heir eventually lived up too his responsibilities."

This should be an example to those who rely on spellchecking: A sentence can pass spellcheck and still contain a spelling error, if a word is used in the wrong context. The sentence above should end with " ... to his responsibilities."

Italics are used for ______

Italic script can convey all of these and more. In works of fiction, dialogue that is imagined or remembered instead of directly spoken is usually rendered in italics.

The opposite of italic typeface is ______.

"Roman" is the name for typeface that is sometimes called "plain text." The word "roman" has to do with the Romance languages -- European languages descended from Latin.

Another name for the serial comma is the ______ comma.

The Oxford or serial comma is a comma that comes before the second-to-last item in a list, often before the word "and" or "or." Example: "The jeweler worked with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires." The serial comma is a matter of preference. Some people like it; others don't.

What is wrong with the following sentence? "Alright, bring me a Phillips screwdriver and I'll fix the door right now."

Despite the famous song "The Kids Are Alright," the correct term is always "All right." And though simply "now" would have worked, there's nothing wrong with "right now." The word "right" is an adverb that amplifies "now."

A partial word added to the beginning of another word to change its meaning is a _____.

For example, in the word "noninvasive," "non-" is the prefix. The opposite of a prefix is a suffix, like "-able" in "expendable."

What is wrong with the following sentence? "We went to five different stores looking for the perfect birthday card."

Some people will insist on correcting you if you say "five different stores,"saying that "five stores" is all you need -- but they're expressing an opinion, not a grammatical rule. In the above sentence, "different" is an amplifier. Taking it out makes the sentence weaker.

Which of these words is written incorrectly?

Words with prefixes generally don't need a hyphen: megavitamin, prototypical, biannual. But if the prefix ends and the word starts with the same vowel -- "pre-eminent" -- a hyphen is added for readability. Likewise, if the word is normally capitalized, the same is true. Therefore, we have "postwar" but also "post-Vietnam."

What sometimes replaces italics in the titles of works (like movies or operas)?

When word processing software doesn't allow for italics, quote marks are often used. In contrast, in the early days of the internet, asterisks before and after a word stood in for italics for emphasis. You see this less and less frequently as software has gotten more sophisticated -- most social media sites allow posters to use italics, bold type and much more.

"Brexit" is an example of what kind of word?

The difference between a compound and a portmanteau word is that a compound word uses two words in their entirety: "firestorm." A portmanteau word combines partial words: "Brexit" means "British exit" (from the European Union), like "antifa" means "antifascism." We blame the internet for the rise of these ungainly mashups: Everyone's got hours to look at cat videos, but (supposedly) no time to spell out entire words.

Which of the following is NOT a word?

A professional editor might flag any of these words as jargony and ask you to use something simpler, but they are all real words. "Effectuate" means "cause to come about," "eventuate" is a fancy word for "come to pass," and "practicable" means "able to be done or put into practice."

What is wrong with this sentence? "The countess was a woman of exceptionable beauty."

Like "practicable," "exceptionable" is a real word -- but here, it's misused. It means, "something to which you'd take exception, or object to." The countess was, we hope, a woman of "exceptional" beauty instead.

Finish the sentence: "There are _____ dogs in the pound than there were last week."

There are "fewer dogs" because "dogs" is a count noun. In contrast, we might say, "There is less rain in the forecast than last week," because rain cannot be quantified and counted. (Except as raindrops, and who's got time for that?)

The word "timely" is an ______.

Despite its "-ly" ending, "timely" is usually an adjective, meaning "appropriate for the time" -- as in "a timely reminder." In older writings, it was an adjective: "You come most timely upon your watch, Bernardo." It can still be used that way, albeit with a kind of ironic flair.

The prefix "meta-" means ...

In fiction, something that is "meta-textual" means it stands outside the text itself, like ideas you bring to a book because of the author's background. Increasingly, the word "meta" can stand alone. For example, if Ted Danson is in a 2017 movie, but the script makes a joke that refers slyly to his '80s series "Cheers," that joke is "very meta."

What is a Janus word?

It's not common, but sometimes a word can have opposing definitions. "Cleave" is one such word: it can mean "cling to" or "split apart" (think of what a meat cleaver does). So is "sanction," which can mean either to allow or to prohibit, depending on context.

Pick the best definition for the word "irony":

"Irony" is one of those words that English speakers tell language learners "really can't be defined," and then go on to try, at great length, to define. One thing we agree it's not, though, is just plain bad luck. "Rain on your wedding day" really isn't ironic.

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