May 29, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Proved/proven, compared to/with

Posted in compare with and to, proved and proven, taut and taunt at 8:10 pm by dlseltzer

I am using this forum, today, to renounce and condemn the verbification of nouns. This verbifying must stop, cease, and desist. You shall no longer verbify willy-nilly.

I, for one, will never use “impact” as a verb although I won’t criticize if you do. I know it’s a losing cause but there are just some things I can’t accept (another is using data as singular). But this practice of verbification is going too far. Today, in the space of an hour, I received two emails. One had the statement, “I have an issue I want to dialogue you about.” The other said, “A pharmaceutical firm is trialing its product at a number of medical centers.” And to add insult to injury, that darn Microsoft Word considers “trialing” a word. It isn’t, people. There are perfectly good existing words just going to waste. For example instead of dialoguing, how about talking with, discussing with? Instead of trialing, we can always do some testing. I say, “DOWN WITH VERBIFICATION.” Maybe we can nounify some verbs.

I’ll get down off the soap box now and give you today’s tips.

Tip 1: Proved and Proven

A reader writes: “Would you mind commenting on proved and proven?”

Sure. Both “proved” and “proven” are past participles of “prove.” And both are considered proper: “proved” being the original past tense and “proven” being of a more recent vintage.

The hypothesis was proved incorrect.

The hypothesis was proven incorrect.

Both are correct. “Proven” is more commonly used in the US, and “proved” is more often used in the UK. When used as an adjective (when modifying a noun), “proven” is the correct form to use.

We use a proven formula in our model.

(What I don’t understand is why I have this irresistible urge to insert the words “to be” before “incorrect” in the examples above. Is it something I learned in school? Is it a backlash to the Pittsburghese “the car needs washed?” I really don’t know but if anyone else shares this particular urge and can speculate why, I’d love to hear about it.)

Tip 2: Compared to and Compared with

A reader writes: “Have you done a WLUT on “compared to” versus “compared with”? I originally learned that “compared with” is preferable but I see “compared to” so much I am beginning to wonder if I was misinformed …”

While often used synonymously, there is, in fact, a nuanced difference between the two.

“Compared to” is used when you want to emphasize similarities.

The doctor compared the pulled thigh muscle to a taut sail.

In terms of excess and flash, I would compare Paris to New York.

If in doubt, replace the words ”compared to” to “likened;” if “likened” makes sense in the phrase, you can use “compared to.”

The doctor likened the pulled thigh muscle to a taut sail.

In terms of excess and flash, I would liken Paris to New York.

“Compared with” is used when you are examining the similarities or the differences.

To determine its authenticity, the printed cell image was compared with the actual cell image.

When I compare Paris with New York, I think of the crazy traffic in New York and the wide boulevards in Paris.

As a general rule, “compared with” is more often correct than “compared to.”

Tip 3. Taunt versus taut

Finally, when writing the examples above, I was reminded of another error that I hear often (it might be a Pittsburgh thing). I hear people using the word ‘taunt” when they really mean “taut.” These words have very different meanings and are not interchangeable.

“Taunt” means to tease sarcastically, to ridicule, to jeer.

The bully taunted the little boy until he started to cry.

“Taut” means tight, pulled firmly.

If we don’t make sure the volleyball net is taut, it’s going to ruin the game.



  1. david said,

    Re “taut” and “taunt”:

    I’ve never heard that misuse before but it reminds me of another one that drives me crazy: “tract” instead of “track” to refer to a concentration within a curriculum, or to someone’s tenure stream status. For example, I cringe when I hear that someone is on the tenure “tract” when he or she is actually on the tenure track. Similarly, I hate it when people say they are in the clinical trials “tract” instead of the clinical trials track in the CRTP.

  2. dlseltzer said,

    Judy writes:

    re proved, proven

    I too want to put the “to be” It was proven to be correct.

  3. Hanem Khater said,

    could you please send tip of English grammer to me periodically

  4. karen said,

    I don’t know if you’re male or female, but I love you. It’s a grammatical kind of love.

  5. Lynn Heath said,

    To dlseltzer
    I agree with everything you say, except for “this practice of verbification “.
    Surely it should be “practise”.

    • dlseltzer said,

      Not in the US. Here, ‘practice’ is the correct word.

  6. totallyconfused said,

    [prove to be correct/incorrect]

    It was such a part of my unconscious thinking that at first I did not know what you were referring to. Yes, it seems to need the “to be” part.

    I did have one question, though, regarding proved/proven. If a sentence is constructed passively, shouldn’t it use “proven”? I got a worksheet in science class that kept saying “this was proved” or “a theory is proved.” stuff that just confused the heck out of me because it sounded so wrong in my head as I read it. I’m from Iowa, by the way.

  7. Chris Rodda said,

    Nounification of verbs.
    I’ve noticed an established American English trend spreading to Australian English.
    It started with invite instead of invitation.
    Now I regularly hear exhale instead of exhalation, reveal instead of revelation, restructure instead of restructuring, and on it goes.
    Do these two trends mean we will soon meal an eat?

  8. Andrew said,

    I understand the confusion between taut and taunt. Many think that taught is similar to taut, and there fore stretching must be ‘taunt’.

    The English language is complicated and difficult (even as a first language), but it doesn’t excuse poor communication. We need to learn to paraphrase what we heard before responding. Too many of us just respond to what we think we’ve heard.

  9. steve said,

    I hear taunt crossed with taut all the time. It drives me crazy. I work in theatrical rigging where ropes and cables are never taunt but often taut. To my horror I have just seen a knot in a reference book I regard highly that was described as good for getting taunt. I hear trust for truss, supposantly, acrosst/acrossed (hard to know how to spell a word that doesn’t exist) the list goes on. As a Briton living in the US I get more than a little tired of being told I spell or pronounce English words incorrectly.

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