Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Phlox, Peonies, and other 'P' Words

Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?


Spring is in full bloom in Chicagoland. After a few days in a row of blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, I must admit, I’m almost giddy. My husband and I have frozen at every lacrosse game, save one, thus far, so this is a welcome reprieve.

All of this lovely weather has me thinking about flowers. Last week, we tackled peak, peek, and pique, among other things, so I thought before launching in on the rest of the words that begin with the letter ‘P,’ I’d mention a couple of flower names that can be tricky sometimes with their unusual spellings. Phlox begins with “ph,” not “f,” and peony has an “o” in the middle, even though it’s usually pronounced “pee-knee,” which is incorrect.

Here are some other tricky words that start with “P.”


Penultimate means “the next to last.” It’s not “a fancy equivalent of ultimate,” according to the Chicago Manual of Style, or some sort of uber-ultimate.

Phenomenon, phenomena

Phenomenon is singular, while phenomena is plural.


The correct spelling of the internet fraud that tries to steal a person’s credit card, user IDs, passwords, and social security number is phishing.

Pore, pour

To read something intently is to pore over it. A very small opening on the surface of the skin through which one sweats also is a pore.

To fill a cup or glass is to pour.

Prophesy, prophecy

Prophesy (verb) is to state that something will happen in the future. Prophecy is the noun. The word, prophesize, does not exist.


Karen prophesied that, although the weather is beautiful today, it will be in the fifties and raining on lacrosse game day later in the week.

Nostradamus is famous for his collection of prophecies, Les Propheties, first published in 1555. 


The Associated Press Stylebook 2016 runs the words together, but Merriam-Webster keeps ping-pong hyphenated, which I prefer. How about you? As long as you keep it consistent throughout your article, email, or book, you’ll be fine.

Plead, pleaded, pleading

Do not use the colloquial past tense form, pled, cautions AP Style. CMS and Merriam-Webster agree.

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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2016 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
The Bugaboo Review: A lighthearted guide to exterminating confusion about words, spelling, and grammar


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


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