Jeremy Butterfield

Making words work for you

Predominately or predominantly? Don’t be pretentious: predominantly predominates.

4 Comments

Radio One in the United Kingdom, in England, which is listened to by predominately younger kids and teens…

Transcript of spoken, ABC (American Broadcasting Corporation), 2015

Oh, geddawaywivyou! The word is “predominantly”.

Editing an academic article the other day, I came across “predominately”.

“Oh, dear! That’s an unfortunate typo”, thought I. Luckily, I decided to double-check.


Shockhorror! It isn’t a typo.

Of course, the spelling “predominately” exists. It exists and is valid in the sense that it is recorded in dictionaries and has a long history: it’s been around since 1594. So what? So has “adamantive”, but who nowadays uses that?

It is arguably invalid quite simply because, if you use it, most people will think it is a typing mistake.

And it is perfectly reasonable for them to think that, because it is the rather uncommon cousin of the much more frequent “predominantly”. That is the version that most people will have been exposed to over time.

If you look up “predominately” in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, you will see from the comments that a good third of people consulting wanted to check if it is a “real” word.

The stats prove it. In the several language corpora I consulted, “predominantly” is between ten and seventeen times more often used than “predominately”.

What’s more, as Google Ngrams and other sources suggest, “predominately” is a) used in US writing more than in any other variety, and b) crops up mostly in academic and technical subject matter. And even in COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American), it occurs a piffling three and a bit times per million words, compared to “predominantly’s” 22-plus times.

predominlately_medicaid-enrollees-are-predominately-women-of-reproductive-age-womenshealth

Even if people don’t think it is a mistake, the word will still draw their eye, which is probably not a good thing. And if it draws their eye, they may think it a deliberate – probably rather affected – stylistic choice. (“Oh, who’s a clever clogs then, using a word that nobody else uses!”)

A poll I posted on Twitter confirms the perception either that it is a mistake or that it is rather poncy. The choices and answers  were: is “predominately” a) a typo ( 65%); b) a ridiculous invention (0%); c) academically respectable (6%); and d) universally pretentious (29%)?

I am coolly objective about it in my edition of Fowler. Bryan Garner suggests that the adjective “predominate” used instead of “predominant” is a needless1 variant; I am now tempted to suggest that the same applies to “predominately”.

Some have tried to manufacture a factitious distinction between the two words, but lexicographers are having none of that. If you look it up in the OED, Collins, Macmillan and Merriam-Webster, you will find it cross-referred to predominantly.

The Oxford English Corpus shows that the two forms associate with the same words, e.g. composed predominantly/-ately of, occur predominantly/-ately in, etc.

Its use as a synonym below feels remarkably forced to me.

predominately_my-clothes-are-predominately-black-and-my-home-is-predominantly-white-quote-1

It should be allowed to die out, and few, I suspect, would regret its demise.


1“Needless variant” is pure lexicographerese, sanctified by usage. Why not “unnecessary”? “Needless” sounds somehow more crushingly final, I suppose. But otherwise, it only collocates with highly unpleasant things, such as death, loss, suffering, bloodshed, etc. Ah, so that’s why lexicographers associate it with variant: it’s like putting a collocational curse on that word. (Shades of negative semantic prosody, but we won’t go there.)

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Author: Jeremy Butterfield

Editor of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Writer, wordsmith, copywriter, copy-editor and lover of words. I provide editing, web copywriting, and marketing copywriting services in the Central Belt of Scotland, including Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounding areas, as well as throughout the UK. You can find me on Twitter @JezzB2.

4 thoughts on “Predominately or predominantly? Don’t be pretentious: predominantly predominates.

  1. I had an argument on Twitter with Oliver Kamm, not about this term but about other variants or supposed errors which he aggressively defends. My criterion is not whether a term or usage is ‘correct’ but whether I would recommend a student (‘native-speaker’ or otherwise) or a would-be author to avoid it. I would argue from the standpoint of ‘style’ if not by recourse to etymology. In this case I agree with you: ‘predominately’ is I suspect in practice an ignorant usage even if attested and should be avoided as bad style and likely to confuse the attentive reader.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Tony

      Yes, “style” was the implicit point I was trying to make: that word can be a bit of an attention-seeker. I like your criteria [sic] of whether one would recommend a student/w-b author to use it. Clearly not, in this case. Actually, the piece I was editing was an academic paper by an academic whose first language is not English: I suggested replacing -ately with -antly, and explained why. However, that said, corpus suggests that a certain number of academics feel it is fine.

      Any particular words the led you to handbags with Oliver K?

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  2. While “predominately” galls me, I am surprised by two revelations you’ve offered: 1) the word appears without censure in dictionaries and 2) it might be perceived as pretentious, whereas to this speaker of U.S. English, it sounds purely ignorant. I am eager to justify my loathing of it, and I’d point out that my default prescriptive dictionary, the American Heritage, gives no adjective “predominate,” as in “the predominate (sic) opinion is that adverbs formed from verbs are bogus.”

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    • Indeed, dictionaries do not censure it, because it is a legit word. Now, whether (some of) those who use it know that it is, or whether it arises from confusion in their minds, I cannot – short of surveying them – tell you. That the AMH does not include it is also quite reasonable: the adj is as dead as the proverbial dodo, but the adverb lingers on; I can only wish it was on the critically endangered species list.

      Liked by 1 person

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