Presumably, this is predominantly your prerogative

There’s something going on with “p” words this week.

I keep encountering weird errors (mostly spoken, not written…but the written ones are out there, too). I’ve heard “prerogative” and “perogative.” I’ve heard (and read) both “presumably” and “presumedly,” as well as “predominantly” and “predominately.” In some cases the usages have grated and seemed obviously wrong, but in others it hasn’t been so clear.

Let’s look at prerogative and perogative first.

Tony paid for the hotel room, and if he takes the bed and makes Dan sleep on the sofa, that’s his prerogative.

This is the simplest of the lot. Although the word is frequently misspelled “perogative,” and even more frequently mispronounced the same way, it is actually prerogative. It means a special right or privilege, or a preeminent right, or a special superiority over others. Unlike the rest of the confusing word pairs here, in which each word has its own definition or exists as a variant spelling, “perogative” is not recognized as a variant by any dictionary I’ve consulted. Although that spelling might not have any authority behind it, the mispronunciation is very common. In my experience, it’s probably the dominant option (but I won’t rule out the possibility of that being a regional thing; in other places it might be unheard of).

Presumably and presumedly are next on my list.

Presumably, getting their car trapped in a snowdrift wasn’t something Dan and Tony had planned.

Both are adverb forms, but presumably is by far the preferred form (easily by more than 100 to 1 if some quick estimates hold up). Both exist as separate entries in most dictionaries, but the distinction between their definitions is so subtle as to almost not exist: presumably usually means ‘one might reasonably suppose’ or ‘in all probability;’ presumedly is typically shown as a synonym for ‘supposedly.’ It’s hard to split that hair.

Only one of the usage guides I’ve looked at touched on this pair, and only indirectly. GMAU covers them within the entry for assumption; presumption. Presumably is the form recommended there, and while presumedly isn’t specifically frowned upon, as part of the larger discussion writers are advised to “stay away from assumedly” (GMAU, 71). I agree that presumedly will sound wrong to some listeners (and look wrong to many readers), so presumably is the better choice.

Predominantly and predominately are another tricky “p” pair.

While the weather was predominantly mild along their route, an unexpected storm had developed in the mountains.

When I recently heard predominately used, my initial reaction was to shrug it off as a simple mispronunciation (à la “perogative“). But as with presumably/presumedly, both predominantly and predominately are listed in most references. GMAU also offers advice here. After labeling predominate (and, we can assume, the adverb form) a “needless variant” of predominant, there’s this note: “In good usage, predominate is the verb, predominant the adjective. Readers may be confused by predominate as an adjective because it is the same as the verb, so predominant should be reserved for this job” (GMAU 650). You’ll find me on the side that doesn’t confuse readers almost every time, so this seems like sensible advice. Consign predominately to the trash heap.

Those were the three “p” pairs that got me started (prerogative/perogative; presumably/presumedly; predominantly/predominately). While developing this post, I ran across several other pairs of interest. These others are different because, while they’re often confused for each other, each word in these pairs has a clearly distinct meaning from the others. When they’re confused, it’s usually a matter of outright misspelling or misunderstanding, rather than a variant problem.

I’ll mention these pairs here, but won’t go into detail (perhaps I’ll return to this topic with a follow up post):

perquisite and prerequisite (a ‘perk’ vs. a requirement)

peremptory and preemptive (domineering vs. done in anticipation)

preeminent and prominent (uniquely notable vs. standing out or conspicuous)

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About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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4 Responses to Presumably, this is predominantly your prerogative

  1. atarunomiko says:

    This isn’t a p-word, but there’s also “supposedly/supposably,” as popularized by an episode of the television sitcom Friends.

    Also, the “-ate/-ant” problem seems to exist for other words as well. I haven’t come across “predominately/predominantly” a lot, but I have seen “dominate” misused fairly often in my online travels: e.g., “Lassie is the dominate member of our pack” and “I am a dominate in the S&M scene” — I hope you aren’t making any assumptions about me right now. 😉

    I know I’ve also seen the reverse mistake (-ant instead of the correct -ate), but I can’t think of any examples now that I want to list them, of course. ^_^()

  2. c says:

    Great article, but you’re off on “presumably” vs “presumedly”. You may want to reread your dictionary definitions. According to Oxford:

    “presumedly” is equivalent to “supposedly”
    According to what is generally assumed or believed (often used to indicate that the speaker doubts the truth of the statement)

    “presumably”
    Used to convey that what is asserted is very likely though not known for certain

    In usage they are near antonyms.

    • Hi, c.

      I’m not sure which disagreement, with which Oxford, you’re referring to. The definitions you listed here are identical to those I used in the original post (which were from the OED). Since this post is nearly 2 1/2 years old, I thought maybe there had been an update, so I re-checked and also looked at Oxford online. They’re still the same (and in agreement), and OED’s ‘presumably’ and ‘presumedly’ listings cross-reference each other. As far as Oxford is concerned, they’re as good as the same word.

      The only distinction I can see is your parenthetical statement “(often used to indicate that the speaker doubts the truth of the statement)”. That’s not shown in either source, so I have to assume that it’s from another (or an addition of your own). It’s not a modification that seems supported at this time, and I haven’t — in practice — noticed that “presumedly” comes with any baggage indicating distrust or doubt, and definitely nothing to justify considering the words antonyms. It’s just a variant, probably the result of misspeaking or misspelling the vast majority of the time.

      Perhaps the creep toward a negative bias is happening in some places, among some speakers, but it doesn’t seem to be on the radar yet. I’ll keep alert for it and report back if I encounter it used in the way you describe.

      Thanks for your comment, and thanks for stopping by!

      – Chris

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