Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fearful/Fearsome



Q. What do you make of this sentence, from a Sunday feature article? "Given their massive size, dinosaurs must have been fearful creatures."

A. Fearful was the wrong word to use. Break fearful apart, and you'll see that it means full of fear, which would not be characteristic of the biggest kid on the block.

The writer should have used fearsome, which means able to cause fear. That –some word part, in the sense of characterized by, shows up in awesome, bothersome, cumbersome, gruesome, and dozens of other words, and in most cases, the direction is usually outward; the effect is on others, not on the subject itself.

Be careful, though. There are at least three –some suffixes, all with different meanings and different sources.

• characterized by: adventuresome, handsome, lonesome
• of a certain number: twosome, threesome, foursome
• pertaining to the body: centrosome, chromosome, monosome


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