Wiktionary:About English

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Main category: English language

This page deals with the specific issues of English entries on Wiktionary. For language-independent guidelines for entries see Wiktionary:Entry layout explained.

History[edit]

English is a West Germanic language that developed originally in England but has become the lingua franca in many parts of the world. It is used extensively as a second language and as an official language in Commonwealth countries and many international organisations.

Historically, English originated from several dialects, now collectively termed Old English, which were brought to Great Britain by the Anglo-Saxons beginning in the 5th century. The language was influenced by the Old Norse language of the Vikings. It was written initially using futhorc, a runic alphabet, but later switched to a Latin alphabet.

After the Norman conquest, Old English developed into Middle English, borrowing heavily from the vocabulary and spelling conventions of Norman (Anglo-French).

Modern English developed with the Great Vowel Shift that began in 15th-century England. English continues to adopt foreign words from a variety of languages, as well as coining new words. A significant number of English words, especially technical words, have been constructed based on roots from Latin and ancient Greek.

Etymology[edit]

The ancestors of Modern English (1500 to present) are, in order: Middle English (1066 to 1500), Old English (450 to 1066), Proto-Germanic, and Proto-Indo-European.

Webster’s early dictionaries used three terms where Wiktionary and modern convention is to use two. Thus, where Webster uses “AS.” (Anglo-Saxon), we speak of “Old English”; where Webster uses “OE.” (Old English), we speak of “(the early period of) Middle English”; where Webster uses “ME.” (Middle English), we speak of “(the late period of) Middle English”.

English has also borrowed extensively from other languages. Key waves of borrowings into English are from Old Norse (non); Anglo-Norman (xno); French (fr); Latin (la; see Latin influence in English); and Ancient Greek (grc). Note however that many French words were borrowed via Anglo-Norman (from Old French (fro)), with the main borrowing from French happening from the 14th century with Middle French (frm); many Latin words were borrowed via French, and others are classical compounds, which instead of being borrowed are modern coinages based on nativized combining forms (e.g., biology is not borrowed from Ancient Greek, but is coined from bio- + -logy); and many Ancient Greek words were borrowed via Latin (and often then via French), and others are classical compounds. In modern times, English has borrowed from a great many languages.

Orthography[edit]

Regional differences[edit]

If a word is spelled differently in different standard varieties of English, the spelling (that is, the entry) which was created first is made the lemma; to avoid unmaintainable duplication of content, other spellings soft-redirect to it.

Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms[edit]

The orthography of abbreviations (e.g. Rev.), acronyms (e.g. AIDS) and initialisms (e.g. CEO) have several regional and historical differences. Here we outline the spelling that the “main” entries for these terms should have as well as list acceptable differences that can be soft-redirects to the main entry.

Full stops/Periods

Historically, with a less literate population, all types of abbreviations were written with periods to denote the deleted parts of the original term. Today this usage is not as common. The main entry for acronyms, initialisms, and “contraction” abbreviations (e.g. Dr for “Doctor”) should be spelled without a periods whereas “truncation” abbreviations (abbr. for “abbreviation”) should be spelled with a period. An exception to this rule is when the reverse form is vastly more common (e.g. P.S. for postscript). On the inflection line of the main entry it is common to show both forms. The inflection line at Mr for instance begins, “Mr. or Mr”. Ellipsis may also be shown using the slash ‘/’ (w/o and a/c) and numbers representing the length of deleted part (so l10n for localization). Common variants include:

  • Some American English style guides, such as the New York Times, recommend periods for initialisms but not acronyms (so D.B.A. but AIDS). The rationale is that this usage hints to the reader that each letter in the initialism is pronounced.
  • In American English, the period is usually added if the abbreviation might otherwise be interpreted as a word.
  • Sometimes periods are used for certain initialisms but not others; a notable instance in American English is to write United States and European Union as U.S. and EU respectively.
  • Some remove periods from all abbreviations, so St can symbolize both Street and Saint.
Capitalization

Almost all initialisms and acronyms are spelled with all letters capitalized. Exceptions include words that have become fully naturalized over time (laser is more common now than LASER) and cases where individual letters may be lower-case if for instance they were not a word-initial letter in the original term (PhD). Abbreviations are in all lower-case (km for kilometer) except where the originally term was capitalized (so Lev. for Leviticus). Common variants include:

  • Some publishers only capitalize the first letter of acronyms to distinguish them from initialisms (so Aids but USA).
  • Some publishers retain only the initial capital for acronyms longer than four letters (So AIDS but Wysiwyg). They do this to avoid the appearance of “shouting capitals”.
Spacing

The main entry for initialisms and acronyms should be spelled without spaces, so ‘U.S.’ but not ‘U. S.’

Plurals

The traditional style of pluralizing single letters with the addition of ’s (for example, B’s come after A’s) was extended to some of the earliest initialisms. Modern usage however inflects all types of abbreviations like nouns by adding -s (MPs). The logic here is that the apostrophe should be restricted to possessives: for example, the CD’s label (the label of the compact disc). There are some exceptions:

  1. When the abbreviation is understood to describe a plural noun already: for example, US is short for United States, but not *United State.
  2. An apostrophe may be used in rare cases where clarity calls for it, for example when letters or symbols are referred to as objects or when the final letter of an abbreviation is S.
    The x’s of the equation
    SOS’s
  3. In Latin, and continuing to the derivative forms in English, single-letter abbreviations had the plural being a doubling of the letter for note-taking.
    p. (page) → pp. (pages)

Phrases[edit]

Many phrases take several forms. It is not necessary to include every conceivable variant. When present, minor variants should simply redirect to the main entry. For the main entry, prefer the most generic and simplistic form.

Pronouns

Prefer the generic personal pronoun, one or one’s. Thus, feel one’s oats is preferable to feel his oats. Use of other personal pronouns, especially in the singular, should be avoided except where they are essential to the meaning. For pronouns in verb phrases “one’s” and “oneself” are used to indicate that the referent is usually the same as the subject of the (reflexive) verb and “someone’s” to indicate that the referent is often different from the subject.

The pronoun someone is preferred in entry titles to somebody, the ‘somebody’ forms may exist as redirects to the ‘someone’ forms in these cases

Articles

Omit an initial article unless it makes a difference in the meaning. E.g., cat’s pajamas instead of the cat’s pajamas. Contrast the bends.

Verbs

Use the infinitive form of the verb (but without “to”) for the principal verb of a verbal phrase. Thus for the saying It’s raining cats and dogs, or It was raining cats and dogs, or I think it’s going to rain cats and dogs any minute now, or It’s rained cats and dogs for the last week solid the entry should be at rain cats and dogs. The other variants are derived by the usual rules of grammar (including the use of it with weather terms and other impersonal verbs).

Capitalization

A proverb entry’s title begins with a lowercase letter, whether it is a full sentence or not. The first word may still be capitalized on its own:

Parts of Speech[edit]

This is basically a level 3 header but may be a level 4 or higher when multiple etymologies or pronunciations are a factor. This header most often shows the part of speech, but is not restricted to “parts of speech” in the traditional sense. The classical parts of speech are:

Additional commonly used grammatical headers are:

In addition to these headers, there are other descriptors that identify the usage of the entry, but which are not (strictly speaking) parts of speech:

Certain oddities of the way in which numbers are used in English has led to the use of:

Debated headers

  • idiom (raining cats and dogs) – Idioms are indicated at the sense line or in a category. All idioms that can not be assigned a traditional PoS header (usually Noun or Verb) can be deemed Phrases.
  • postposition (aside and notwithstanding) – Discussion reached a consensus to use Preposition for all adpositions.
  • clitic (’s, ’d) – While entries should note that they are clitics, the POS header used is Suffix.
  • XXX form (“Noun form”, “Verb form”) – Just use the “form”-less header (“Noun”, “Verb”).
  • number, numeral, ordinal number – There is no consensus on the exact use of these headers.

Parts of Speech headers for multi-word terms[edit]

Many multi-word terms can readily be assigned to such categories as Noun or Verb. Those categories are taken to mean “noun phrase” or “verb phrase” respectively. Phrasal verbs are assigned to the category “Verb”. Many idioms have grammatical forms of noun or verb phrases. Some multi-word entries may be adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, or interjections. In some cases the appropriate category is not at all obvious and may be disputed by grammar authorities. In such cases the category and header “Phrase” may be appropriate. Prepositional phrases should be placed in Category:English prepositional phrases and shown are Adverbs and/or Adjectives by their common use. Most prepositional phrases can function both as if they were adjectives and as if they were adverbs.

Proverbs are a special category that usually has the form of a sentence and always the force of a sentence. They may be elliptical references to a full sentence that constitutes the underlying proverb. We have yet to formalize criteria for determining whether a given entry should appear under a Proverb rather than a Phrase header.

Multiword terms may merit inclusion in categories which indicate their grammar more precisely than the header, such as Category:English prepositional phrases or Category:English phrasal verbs. Some entries (not Proverbs) are full sentences with noun as subject and verb and should be placed in Category:English sentences. Items appearing under the Phrase header, in particular, may need some further grammatical categorization.

  • Category:English subordinate clauses contains items that begin with a conjunction and have a subject and verb and do not reguire a complement.
  • Category:English coordinates contains items that are not clauses which begin with a conjunction. Examples are list terminators (etc, and all) and expressions involving other conjunctions that seem to form an idiom.
  • Category:English non-constituents contains items not otherwise classified that appear to comprise elements that would usually be analyzed as not part of separate grammatical elements in an utterance. The entries in this category may make be useful for users because they embody a structural relationship that forms a coherent cognitive concept.

Criteria for inclusion[edit]

Aside from Wiktionary's general criteria for inclusion, there are some restrictions specific to English.

Modern English possessives[edit]

It is community consensus not to provide entries for Modern English possessive forms which are formed by adding the enclitics ’s or , and which are otherwise not idiomatic (with the single exception of the pronoun one’s). Pronunciation transcriptions for possessive forms of words, if necessary, can be given in the pronunciation sections of the words’ entries.EXPLANATION VOTE

Adjective and adverb comparative and superlative forms[edit]

When they meet Wiktionary's criteria for inclusion, single word comparative and superlative forms such as newer, newest, faster, and fastest are allowed. Comparatives and superlatives formed using more and most are not considered idiomatic and should not have their own entries. For example, more excitable and most excitable do not exist.

Headword-line templates[edit]

English headword-line templates should be used on the headword line for all English entries. They list the headword and its key inflections, providing consistent layout and giving the Wiktionary community the flexibility to evolve inflection lines’ display styles, automatic categorization, and personalization options (see WT:CUSTOM). If no headword-line template is available for a particular situation, the generic template {{head}} should be used. Many older entries simply write the headword directly in the page surrounded by three quotes ('''word'''), but this is deprecated and should be replaced by the appropriate template.

All of the templates here should be transcluded (e.g. {{en-noun}}), they do not work when substituted (e.g. {{subst:en-noun}}). For regular entries, parameters are often not required. For instructions on how to use each of the individual templates, see their documentation pages.

For multi-word proper entries, the headword can be overridden with the parameter head= to specify wiki syntax (e.g. “{{en-noun|head=...|...s}}”, “{{en-verb|head=...|...s|...ing|...d}}”, and “{{en-adj|head=...|...er|...est}}”).

Nouns[edit]

Use {{en-noun}} for most nouns. {{en-plural noun}} is used for plural nouns that have no singular form. A quick guide:

code result
{{en-noun}} noun (plural nouns)
{{en-noun|es}} church (plural churches)
{{en-noun|belfries}} belfry (plural belfries)
{{en-noun|-}} awe (uncountable)
{{en-noun|~}} beer (countable and uncountable, plural beers)
{{en-noun|?}} awe
{{en-noun|head=[[hot]] [[dog]]}} hot dog (plural hot dogs)
{{en-noun|head=[[shoe]] [[polish]]|es}} shoe polish (plural shoe polishes)
{{en-noun|head=[[chain]][[man]]|chainmen}} chainman (plural chainmen)

Verbs[edit]

For {{en-verb}}. Many verbs form the third-person singular by adding -s, the past by adding -ed, and the present participle by adding -ing. For such verbs, no parameters are necessary:

code result
{{en-verb}} play (third-person singular simple present plays, present participle playing, simple past and past participle played)
{{en-verb|scratch|es}} scratch (third-person singular simple present scratches, present participle scratching, simple past and past participle scratched)
{{en-verb|free|d}} free (third-person singular simple present frees, present participle freeing, simple past and past participle freed)
{{en-verb|admir|ing}} admire (third-person singular simple present admires, present participle admiring, simple past and past participle admired)
{{en-verb|sets|setting|set}} set (third-person singular simple present sets, present participle setting, simple past and past participle set)
{{en-verb|does|doing|did|done}} do (third-person singular simple present does, present participle doing, simple past did, past participle done)
{{en-verb| [[works]] | [[working]] | '''[[worked]]''' ''or obsolete'', '''[[wrought]]'''}} work (third-person singular simple present works, present participle working, simple past and past participle worked or obsolete, wrought)

Adjectives[edit]

Use {{en-adj}} to show the inflection line of an English adjective.

This template shows the adjective in bold (optionally linking its components) and its comparative and superlative inflections, if any.

code result
{{en-adj}} beautiful (comparative more beautiful, superlative most beautiful)
{{en-adj|er}} tall (comparative taller, superlative tallest)
{{en-adj|later}} late (comparative later, superlative latest)
{{en-adj|better|sup=best}} good (comparative better, superlative best)
{{en-adj|er|more}} abject (comparative abjecter or more abject, superlative abjectest or most abject)
{{en-adj|-}} annual (not comparable)
{{en-adj|?}} disliked

Adverbs[edit]

Use {{en-adv}} to show the inflection line of an English adverb.

This template shows the adverb in bold (optionally linking its components) and its comparative and superlative inflections, if any.

code result
{{en-adv}} beautifully (comparative more beautifully, superlative most beautifully)
{{en-adv|er}} fast (comparative faster, superlative fastest)
{{en-adv|later}} late (comparative later, superlative latest)
{{en-adv|better|sup=best}} well (comparative better, superlative best)
{{en-adv|-}} uniquely (not comparable)
{{en-adv|?}} relatedly

Other[edit]

These templates are generally placed on entries without any modification.

Usage of generic {{head}}

  • Prefix: {{head|en|prefix}}
  • Infixes: {{head|en|infix|sort=bloody}}
  • Suffix: {{head|en|suffix|sort=ness}}

Templates for types of entries that will not need much more work:

Pronunciation[edit]

See Appendix:English pronunciation

UK English pronunciations should give the Received Pronunciation of the entry.

Special treatment[edit]

As the native language of this Wiktionary, English is given special treatment. Firstly, entries and policies are written in English, and where an entry contains multiple language sections, including an English section, the English section is listed first (behind only Translingual sections, because those are for words used in English and other languages). Secondly, many templates default to English when no other language has been set, although it may be clearer to specify it explicitly. For example, to use {{etyl}} to indicate that an English word derives from French, one would normally write {{etyl|fr|en}}, but {{etyl|fr}} is equivalent. Many other templates, particularly those like {{head}} and {{l}} which take the language code as the first parameter, require users to specify a language. This also includes {{term}}, which uses lang= for historical reasons. Thirdly, translations sections are only given on English pages, per WT:ELE#Translations — foreign terms are only translated into English, not into other foreign languages.

Other English aids[edit]

See also[edit]