Mighty Red Pen

August 23, 2010

Predominately vs. predominantly

Filed under: Word wars — mighty red pen @ 7:28 pm

I was editing a piece today that used the word predominately, which didn’t look right to me. I wanted the word to be predominantly, but the MS Word dictionary didn’t seem to have any problem with it. This sent me running to the dictionary to help me sort it out.

The dictionary was zero help. Did I say zero? Yes, zero. They are both words and maybe it’s just me, but I could not parse the difference.

Predominantly: For the most part; MAINLY

Predominately: Predominantly

So I put the question to the Tweeple. June Casagrande of Conjugate Visits directed me to her blog post on the subject, saying that the distinction is “blurry.” Ah yes, blurry.

Brians Common Errors in English Usage comes to my rescue (again). He explains:

“Predominantly” is formed on the adjective “predominant,” not the verb “predominate”; so though both forms are widely accepted, “predominantly” makes more sense.

And the always helpful World Wide Words explains further:

There’s been a lot of scholarly argument about the relative merits of these two words in the last century or so, most of it directed at the associated adjectives, predominate and predominant. Bryan Garner, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, says that predominate is a needless variant of predominant; good usage requires predominate to be used only as a verb and predominant only as an adjective. At least one earlier usage writer has gone so far as to condemn the adjectival use predominate as illiterate.

History is against the critics. Predominate has been recorded as an adjective since 1591. . . . It’s true that predominantly is much more common than predominately, as predominant is than predominate. However, there is no difference in sense between the pairs and the other forms aren’t wrong, just less often preferred alternatives.

So it seems that while both are correct, we predominately prefer predominantly. Er, don’t we?

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13 Comments »

  1. Not exactly related, but your dictionary obfuscation reminded me of a perfect dead end. My mother used to say “Piffle” a lot as an exclamation meaning nonsense. Never hearing anyone else use that word, we decided to look it up in Funk & Wagnell’s. The meaning of piffle is twaddle. So we looked up twaddle. It simply said “Piffle.”

    Comment by Val Span — August 25, 2010 @ 7:30 pm | Reply

    • Piffle is a wonderful word. Harriet Vane says to Lord Peter Wimsey that any woman who married him would do so for the pleasure of hearing him talk piffle.

      Comment by Bonnie — March 3, 2013 @ 10:27 am | Reply

    • Programmers like to point out that the only appropriate definition of “recursive” is (see “recursive”).

      Comment by Wal Webster — September 29, 2013 @ 9:08 pm | Reply

  2. Lmao @ “piffle” and “twaddle”.

    Comment by Zee — May 6, 2011 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  3. The reason “predominantly” seems more correct is because it is an adverb constructed from an adjective (predominant), with the suffix -ly attached. The reason “predominately” seems incorrect is because it constructed from a verb (predominant) with -ly attached. We don’t make many adverbs out of the (verb)-ly structure. For example, I don’t say, “I went runly down the street.” We are more likely to use the (adjective)-ly, as in “I went quickly down the street.”

    Comment by ikenelson — June 17, 2011 @ 9:49 pm | Reply

    • I think you include an inadvertent mistake. In the second sentence you must mean “predominate” instead of “predominant” as the word in parentheses.

      Comment by Eugene Bardach — August 26, 2012 @ 5:49 pm | Reply

  4. I have a question regarding grading the use… Is it likely that students are thinking of predominantly and use predominately instead? Should it be something to correct in grading…?

    Comment by gatorknight — November 10, 2011 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  5. “The reason “predominantly” seems more correct is because it is an adverb constructed from an adjective (>>>predominant<<>>predominant<<<) with -ly attached" You used the same word for the opposite and it made this confusing situation even more confusing, I almost hung myself in this enigma, until I figured out it was a spelling mistake… Damn my head hurts.

    Comment by Lieveo — August 16, 2012 @ 9:53 pm | Reply

  6. [...] [Note: You might be thinking, wait, shouldn't that be "predominantly"? No, not necessarily] [...]

    Pingback by A Billion Mobile Bankers? | Snarketing 2.0 — January 15, 2013 @ 8:14 am | Reply

  7. There is no such word as “predominately”. Word’s spellchecker is only as good as the people who write it. It also recognises “publically”, which also doesn’t exist.

    Comment by Claire — February 9, 2013 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

  8. Your text simply demonstrates that illiterants (sic) (sorry for the red herring — just couldn’t help myself) have been around since 1591 at least. Surely, somewhere, someone has pointed out the folly of trying to make an adverb out of “dominate” (cf. “dominant”)?

    But it’s good that I now find that it’s also tolerated by Open Office’s spellchecker, as by Microsoft’s — it’s just another subtle cue to allow us to discern with whom we’d REALLY prefer our children to be consorting …

    Comment by Wal Webster — March 12, 2013 @ 1:40 am | Reply

  9. Getting rid of the “pre” for just a moment makes things clearer. Dominant things dominate.

    Comment by Tony Graham — August 12, 2013 @ 6:37 pm | Reply

  10. Thanks for parsing this out! When I first saw that ugly word in my college students’ writings, I alsowas convinced it was unconventionally spelled (I.e., wrong!). The dictionary check identifying it as technically conventional dismayed me to no end. Here is what I have decided. 1. In current usage, successful writers and speakers almost universally use “predominantly.” 2. My students are in various states of becoming successful users of university-level English. A slew of other spelling and word choice confusions evident in their texts lead me to infer that they are likely not using “predominately” intentionally. Among my students, the more competent writers invariably use “predominantly.” 3. So I just tell my students that while both versions are accurate, the one with the n is the one commonly used.

    Comment by M. Casimir — May 16, 2014 @ 2:10 pm | Reply


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