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Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #19

Has anyone else noticed that the traditional expression in the light of has dropped its definite article over the last few years, and now takes the slimmed-down form of in light of? I first noticed this in philosophy articles and papers but it has become more widespread. I have a feeling, which I could not substantiate with evidence, that the change is American in origin. Which is odd because in some contexts Americans are keener on the definite article than we are: they tend to say in the hospital where a British speaker would say in hospital.

While we are on the subject of the influence of American on British English, has anybody noticed the creeping use of likely as a synonym for probably? As in "The game will likely go to extra time". Not keen on that. In British English, likely belongs to that small groups of adjectives which end in -ly, even though -ly is the regular suffix for adverbs. Others include friendly, spindly and leisurely. To my British ears, likely used adverbially sounds crashingly wrong. But American linguistic imperialism is irresistible and we'll likely – I mean probably! – all be using it before long.

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.


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