O is for Osprey

Pandion haliaetus
This osprey is nesting on a hydro pole right next to a minor highway south of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.


O is for “or”

Or is a conjunction used to denote one of two alternatives or the last of a list of alternatives. In this way, the word or may also express some uncertainty.

purple or mauve

sheep or goats

an apple, an orange, or a peach

two or three goats

In the case of either…or, you are presented with only two alternatives.

Either we eat now or after the play ends.

Either do your chores or else you are grounded.

He was working either in his office or at the library.

For an expression using whether…or, you are presented with a conditional phrase or an indirect question.

We have to go, whether it is raining or not.

Call your friend and ask him whether or not it is raining there.

The word or may indicate a synonym.

cougars or mountain lions

an opening or gap

O is for ought

The word ought is an auxiliary verb, originally a past participle of the verb, to owe, but now used only with other verbs in the infinitive. It indicates obligation or duty, advisability or prudence, and is less vexing than should.

We ought to leave now.

He ought to have thought of that.

She ought not to have eaten so much.

Confusing O words














  1. Choose a book or newspaper to work with. Find sentences that include the conjunction or and figure out the exact meaning.
  2. Substitute should for ought and consider how the meaning of a sentence changes.
  3. Read through the list of “Confusing O Words”. Check the pronunciation of each word. Any surprises?

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in the summer of 2015.

N is for Nest

Song birds' nest
This birds’ nest was built last year. Perhaps the same birds will return to it this spring.


N is a consonant and is spelled, en



narco— relates to narcotics or a numbing effect, as from drugs.

narcolepsy, narcotic

necro— creates a noun or adjective to do with death or the dead.

necrophobia, necrosis

neo— describes something new or renewed.

neo-classical, neocortex, neolithic

nervo— relates to nerves.

nervous, nervy

nitr—, nitro— describes a compound or something containing the element nitrogen.

nitric acid, nitroglycerin, nitrous oxide

non— gives a negative sense or describes a lack of something.

non-addictive, non-believer, non-delivery, non-payment, non-profit, nonsense

nona— stands for nine or ninth.


nucle—, nucleo— describe a nucleus or something to do with it.

nuclear physics, nucleic acid


nutri— describes something nourishing.

nutrient, nutrition



naut describes a person who navigates a space vehicle or something similar.

aeronaut, astronaut, cosmonaut

nd, —and, —end describes a person or sometimes a thing to be treated with some respect.

brigand, graduand

dividend, fiend, friend, reverend

ness creates a noun from an adjective to express the state or condition of someone or something.

artfulness, calmness,  closeness, idleness, sweetness, wilderness

nik describes a person with certain characteristics, especially reminiscent of the 1960s.

beatnik, peacenik, refusenik

nomy denotes an area of knowledge or system of laws in a certain field of study.



  1. Do a search on the Internet for words in the list of prefixes and suffixes. How are the words used? Do you understand them in context?

Special reading assignment

  1. Birds’ nests are difficult to see in the summer when the leaves fill out on the trees.
  2. Nuthatches nest in cavities in trees.


Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, English Manual: Letter by Letter, to be published in the summer of 2015.