Monday, May 10, 2010

How to Use: American English Words Commonly Confused

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A, an. Use an before a vowel sound , a before a consonant sound; an apple, a peach. Problems sometimes arise with words beginning with h. If the h is silent, the word beginning with a vowel sound, so use an; an hour, an heir, an honest senator, an honorable deed. If the h is pronounced, the word begins with a consonant sound, so use a: a hospital, a hymn, a historian, a hotel.

Accept, except. Accept is a verb meaning "to receive." Except is usually a preposition meaning "excluding." I will accept all the packages except that one. Except is also a verb meaning "to exclude." Please except that item from the list.

Adapt, adopt. Adapt means "to adjust or become accustomed"; it is usually followed by to. Adopt means "to take as one's own." Our family adopted a Vietnamese orphan, who quickly adapted to his new surroundings.

Adverse, averse. Adverse means "unfavorable." Averse means "opposed" or "reluctant"; it is usually followed by to. I am averse to your proposal because it could have an adverse impact on the economy.

Affect, effect. Affect is usually a verb meaning "to influence." Effect is usually a noun meaning "result." The drug did not affect the disease and it had several adverse side effects. Effect can also be a verb meaning "to bring about." Only the president can effect such a dramatic change.

Aggravate. Aggravate means "to make worse or more troublesome." Overgrazing aggravated the soil erosion. In formal writing, avoid the colloquial use of aggravate meaning "to annoy or irritate." Her babbling annoyed (not aggravated me).

Agree to, agrees with. Agree to means "to give consent." Agree with means to "to be in accord" or "to come to an understanding." He agrees with me about the need for change, but he won't agree to my plan.

Ain't. Ain't is nonstandard. Use am not, are not (aren't), or is not (isn't). I am not (no ain't) going home for the spring break.

All ready, already. All ready means "completely prepared." Already means "previously." Susan was all ready for the concert, but her friends had already left.

All right. All right is always written as two words. Alright is nonstandard.

All together, altogether. All together mean "everyone gathered." Altogether means "entirely." We were not altogether certain that we could bring the family all together for the reunion.

Allude. To allude to something is to make an indirect reference to it. Do not use allude to mean "to refer directly." In his lecture the professor referred (not alluded) to several pre-Socratic philosophers.

Allusion, illusion. An allusion is an indirect reference. An illusion is a misconception or false impression. Did you catch my allusion to Shakespeare? Mirrors give the room an illusion of depth.

A lot. A lot is two words. Do not write alot. We have had a lot of rain this spring.

A.M., P.M., a.m., p.m. Use the abbreviations with numerals" 6:00 P.M., 11:00 a.m. Do not use them as substitutes for the words morning and evenings. I worked late in the evening (not p.m.) yesterday.

Among, between. Ordinarily, use among with three or more entities, between two. The prize was divided among several contestants. You have a choice between carrots and beans.

Amoral, immoral. Amoral means "neither moral nor immoral"; it also means "not caring about moral judgments." Immoral means "morally wrong." Until recently most business courses were taught from an amoral perspective. Murder is immoral.

Amount, number. Use amount with quantities that cannot be counted; use number with those that can. This recipe calls for a large amount of sugar. We have a large number of toads in our garden.

And etc. Et cetera (etc.) means "and so forth"; therefore, and etc. is redundant.

And/or. Avoid the awkward construction and/or except in technical or legal documents.

Angry at, angry with. To write that one is angry at another person is nonstandard. Use angry with instead.

Ante, anti. The prefix ante- means "earlier" or "in front of"; the prefix anti- means "against" or "opposed to." William Lloyd Garrison was one of the leaders of the antislavery movement during the antebellum period. Anti- should be used with a hyphen when it is followed by a capital letter or a word beginning with i.

Anxious. Anxious means "worried" or "apprehensive." In formal writing, avoid using anxious to mean "eager." We are eager (not anxious) to see your new house.

Anybody, anyone. Anybody and anyone are singular.

Anymore. Reserve the adverb anymore for negative contexts, where it means "any longer." Moviegoers are rarely shocked anymore by profanity. Do not use anymore in positive contexts. Use now or nowadays instead. Interest rates are so high nowadays (not anymore) that few people can afford to buy homes.

Anyone, any one. Anyone, an indefinite pronoun, means "any person at all." Any one, the pronoun preceded by the adjective any refers to a particular person or thing in a group. Anyone from Chicago may choose of the games on display.

Anyplace. Anyplace is informal for anywhere. Avoid Anyplace in formal writing.

Anyways, anywheres. Anyways and anywheres are nonstandard. Use anyway and anywhere.

As. As is sometimes used to mean "because." But do not use it if there is any chance of ambiguity: We canceled the picnic because (not as) it began raining. As here could mean "because" or "when."

Awful. The adjective awful means "awe-inspiring." Colloquially is is used to mean "terrible" or "bad." The adverb awfully is sometimes used in conversation as an intensifier meaning "very." In formal writing avoid these colloquial uses. I was very (not awfully) upset last night. Susan had a terrible (not an awful) time calming her nerves.

Awhile, a while. Awhile is an adverb; it can modify a verb, but it cannot be the object of a preposition such as for. The two-word form a while is a noun preceded by an article and therefore can be the object of a preposition. Stay awhile. Stay for a while.

Bad, badly. Bad is an adjective, badly an adverb. They felt bad about being early and ruining the surprise. Her arm hurt badly after she slid headfirst into second base.

Being as, being that. Being as and being that are nonstandard expressions. Write because or since instead. Because (not Being as) I slept late, I had to skip breakfast.

Beside, besides. Beside is a preposition meaning "at the side of" or "next to." Annie Oakley slept with her gun beside her bed. Besides is a preposition meaning "except" or "in addition to." No one besides Terrie can have that ice cream. Besides is also an adverb meaning "in addition." I'm not hungry; besides, I don't like ice cream.

Bring, take. Use bring when an object is being transported toward you, take when it is being moved away. Please bring me a glass of water. Please take these flowers to Mr. Spitz.

Burt, bursted; bust, busted. Burst is an irregular verb meaning "to come open or fly apart suddenly or violently." Its principal parts are burst, burst, burst. The past-tense form bursted is nonstandard. Bust and busted are slang for burst and, along with bursted, should be not be used in formal writing.

Can, May. The distinction between can and may is fading,but many careful writers still observe it in formal writing. Can is traditionally reserved for ability, may for permission. Can you ski down the advanced slope without falling? May I help you?

Capital, capitol. Capital refers to a city, capitol to a building where lawmakers meet. Capital also refers to wealth or resources. The capitol has undergone extensive renovations. The residents of the state capital pay less taxes.

Censor, sensure. Censor means " to remove or suppress material considered objectionable." Censure means "to criticize severely." The library's new policy of censoring controversial books has been censured by the media.

Center around. Center on and center in are considered more logical than center around. His talk centered on global buildup of arms in the last five years.

Cite, site. Cite means "to quote as an authority or example." Site as a verb means "to situate or locate." He cited (not sited) Frank Lloyd Wright to give strength to his argument.

Climactic, climatic. Climactic is derived from climax, the point of greatest intensity in a series or progression of events. Climatic is derived from climate and refers to meteorological conditions. The climatic period in the dinosaurs' reign was reached just before severe climatic conditions brought on an ice age.

Compare to, compare with. Compare to means "to represent as similar." She compared him to a wild stallion. Compare with means "to examine the ways in which two things are similar." The study compared the language ability of apes with that of dolphins.

Complement, compliment. Complement is a verb meaning "to go with or complete" or a noun meaning "something that completes." Compliment as a verb means "to flatter"; as a noun it means "flattering remark." Her skill at rushing the next complements his skill at volleying. Mother's flower arrangements receive many compliments.

Conscience, conscious. Conscience is a noun meaning "moral principle." Conscious is an adjective meaning "aware or alert." Let your conscience be your guide. Were you conscious of his love for you?

Contact. Although the use of contact to mean "to get in touch with" is common in speech, it is not appropriate in formal writing. If possible, use a precise verb as write or telephone. We will telephone (not contact) you.

Continual, continuous. Continual means "repeated regularly and frequently." She grew weary of the continual telephone calls. Continuous means "extended or prolonged without interruption." The broken siren made a continuous wail.

Could care less. Could care less is a nonstandard expression. Write couldn't care less instead. He couldn't (not could) care less about his psychology final.

Could of. Could of is nonstandard for could have. We could have (not could of) had steak for dinner if we had been hungry.

Criteria. Criteria is the plural of criterion, which means "a standard or rule or test on which a judgment or decision ca be based." The only criterion for the scholarship is ability.

Data. Data is the plural of datum, which mean "a fact or proposition." Many writers now treat data as singular or plural depending on the meaning of the sentence. Some experts insist, however, that data can only be plural. The new data suggest (not suggests) that our theory is correct. The singular datum is rarely used.

Different from, different than. Ordinarily, write different from. Your sense of style is different from Jim's. However, different than is acceptable to avoid an awkward construction. Please let me know if your plans are different from (to avoid from what) they were six weeks ago.

Differ from, differ with. Differ from means 'to be unlike"; differ with means "to disagree." She differed with me about the wording of the agreement. My approach to the problem differed from hers.

Disinterested, uninterested. Disinterested means "impartial, objective"; uninterested means "not interested." We sought the advice of a disinterested counselor to help us solve our problem. He was uninterested in anyone's opinion but his own.

Don't. Don't is the contraction of do not. I don't want any. Don't should not used as the contraction for does not, which is doesn't. He doesn't (not don't) want any.

Double negative. Standard English allows two negatives only if a positive meaning is intended. The runners were not unhappy with their performance. Double negatives use to emphasize negation are nonstandard. Jack doesn't have to answer to anybody (not nobody).

Due to. Due to is an adjective phrases and should not be used as a preposition meaning "because of." The trip was canceled because of (not due to) lack of interest. Due to is acceptable as a subject complement and usually follows a form of the verb be. His success was due to hard work.

e.g., In formal writing, replace the Latin abbreviation e.g., with its English equivalent: for example or for instance.

Elicit, illicit. Elicit is a verb meaning "to bring out" or to "evoke." Illicit is an adjective meaning "unlawful." The reporter was unable to elicit any information from the police about illicit drug traffic.

Emigrate from, immigrate to. Emigrate means "to leave one country or region to settle in another." In 1900, my grandfather emigrated from Russia to escape the religious pogroms. Immigrate means "to enter another country and reside there." Many Mexicans immigrate to the United States to find work.

Eminent, imminent. Eminent means "outstanding" or "distinguished." We met an eminent professor of Greek history. Imminent means "about to happen." The announcement is imminent.

Enthused. Many people object to the use of enthused as an adjective. Use enthusiastic instead. The children were enthusiastic (not enthused) about going to the circus.

-ess. Many people find the -ess suffix demeaning. Write poet, not poetess; Jew, not jewesss; author, not authoress.

Etc. Avoid ending a list with etc. It is more emphatic to end with an example, and in most contexts readers will understand that the list is not exhaustive. When you don't wish to end with an example, and so on is more graceful than etc.

Eventually, ultimately. Often used interchangeably, eventually is the better choice to mean "at an unspecified time in the future." and ultimately is better to mean "the furthest possible extent or grated extreme." He knew that eventually he would complete his degree. The existentialist considered suicide the ultimately rational act.

Everybody, everyone. Everybody and everyone are singular.

Everyone, every one. Everyone is an indefinite pronoun. Every one, the pronoun one preceded by the adjective every, means "each individual or thing in a particular group." Every one is usually followed by of. Everyone wanted to go. Every one of the missing books was found.

Exam. Exam is informal. Use examination in writing.

Expect. Avoid the colloquial use of expect meaning "to believe, think, or suppose." I think (not expect) it will rain tonight.

Explicit, implicit. Explicit means "expressed directly" or "clearly defined"; implicit means "implied, unstated." I gave him explicit instructions not to go swimming. My mother's silence indicated her implicit approval.

Farther, further. Farther describes distances. Further suggests quantity or degree. Chicago is farther from Miami than I thought. You extended the curfew further than your should have.

Female, male. The terms female and male are jargon for "woman" and "man." Two women (not females) and one man (not male) applied for the position.

Fewer, less. Fewer refers to items that can be counted; less refers to general amounts. Fewer people are living in the city. lease put less sugar in my tea.

Finalize. Finalize is jargon meaning "to make final or complete." Use ordinary English instead. The architect prepared final drawing (not finalized the drawings).

Firstly. Firstly sound pretentious, and it lead to the ungainly series first, secondly, thirdly, fourthly, and so on. Write first, second, third instead.

Flunk. Flunk is colloquial for fail and should be avoided in formal writing.

Folks. Folks is an informal expression for "parents" or "relatives" or "people" in general. Use a more formal expression instead.

Get. Get has many colloquial uses. In writing avoid using get to mean the following: "to evoke an emotional response" (that music always gets to me); "to annoy" (After a while his sulking got to me); "to become" (He got sick); "to start or begin" (Let's get going). Avoid using have got to in place of must. I must (not have got to) finish this paper tonight.

Good, well. Good is an adjective, well an adverb. He hasn't felt good about his game since he sprained his wrist last season. She performed well on the uneven parallel bars.

Hanged, hung. Hanged is the past-tense and past-participle form of the verb hang meaning "to execute." The prisoner was hanged at dawn. Hung is the past-tense and past-participle form of the verb hang meaning "to fasten or suspend." The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.

Hardly. Avoid expressions such as can't hardly and not hardly which are considered double negatives. I can (not can't) hardly describe my elation at getting the job.

Has got, have got. Got is unnecessary and awkward in such constructions. It should be dropped. We have (not have got) three days to prepared for the opening.

Hisself. Hisself is nonstandard. Use himself.

Hopefully. Hopefully means "in a hopeful manner." We looked hopefully to the future. Do not use hopefully in constructions such the following: Hopefully, your daughter will recover soon. Indicate who is doing the hopig: I hope that your daughter will recover soon.

i.e. In formal writing, replace the Latin abreviation i.e., with its English equivalent: that is.

If, whether. Use if in a statement of condition and whether to express alternatives. If you go on a trip, whether it be to Nebraska or New Jersey, remember to bring traveler's checks.

Implement. Implement is a pretentious way of saying "do," "carry out," or "accomplish." Use ordinary language instead, We carried out (not implemented) the director's orders with some reluctance.

Imply, infer. Imply means "to suggest or state indirectly"; infer means "to draw a conclusion." John implied that he knew all about computers, but the interviewer inferred that John was inexperience.

Individual. Individual is a pretentious substitute for person. We invited several persons (not individuals) from the audience to participate in the experiment.

Ingenious, ingenuous. Ingenious means "clever." Sarah's solution to the problem was ingenious. Ingenuous means "naive" or "frank." For a successful manager, Ed is surprisingly ingenuous.

In regards to. In regards to confuses two different phrases: in regard to and as regards. Use one or the other. In regard to (or As regards) the contract, ignore the first clause.

Irregardless. Irregardless is nonstandard. Use regardless.

Is when, is where. These mixed constructions are often incorrectly used in definitions. A run-off election is a second election held to break a tie (not is when a second election breaks a tie).

Its, it's. Its is a possessive pronoun: it's is a contraction for it is. The dog licked its wound whenever its owner walked into the room. It's a perfect day to walk the twenty-mile trail.

Kind(s). Kind is a singular and should be treated as such. Don't write These kind of chairs are rare. Write instead This kind of chairs is rare. Kinds is plural and should be used only when you mean more than one kind. These kinds of chair are rare.

Kind of, sort of. Avoid using kid of or sort of to mean "somewhat." The movie was kind of boring. Do not put a after either phrase. That kind of (not kind of a) salesclerk annoys me.

Learn, teach. Learn means "to gain knowledge"; teach means "to impart knowledge." I must teach (not learn) my sister to read.

Leave, let. Leave means "to exit." Avoid using it with the nonstandard meaning "to permit." Let (not leave) me help you with the dishes.

Liable. Liable means "obligated" or "responsible." Do not use it to mean "likely." You're likely (not liable) to trip if you don't tie your shoelaces.

Lie, lay. Lie is an intransitive verb meaning "to recline or rest on a surface." Its principal parts are lie, lay lain. Lay is a transitive verb meaning "to put or place." Its principal parts are lay, laid, laid.

Like, as. Like is a preposition, not a subordinating conjunction. It can be followed only by a noun or a noun phrase. 'As' is a subordinating conjunction that introduces a subordinate clause. In casual speech you may say: he looks like she hasn't slept --or-- You don't know her like I do. But in formal writing, use as. She looks as if she hasn't slept. You don't know her as I do.

Loan. Some people object to the use of loan as a verb. Use lend instead. Please lend (not loadn) me five dollars.

Loose, lose. Loose is an adjective meaning "not securely fastened." Lose is a verb meaning "to misplace" or "to not win." Did you lose your only loose pair of work pants?

Lots, lots of. Lots and lots of are colloquial substitutes for many, much, or a lot. Avoid using them in formal writing.

Mankind. Avoid mankind whenever possible. It offens many readers because it excludes women. Use humanity, humans, the human race, or humankind instead.

Maybe, may be. Maybe is an adverb meaning "possibly." May be is a verb phrase. Maybe the sun will shine tomorrow. Tomorrow may be a brighter day.

May of, might of. May of and might are nonstandard for may have and might have. We may have (not may of) had too many cookies.

Media, medium. Media is the plural of medium. Of all the media that cover the Olympics, the television is the medium that best captures the spectacle of the events.

Most. Most is colloquial when used to mean "almost" and should be avoided. Almost (not most) everyone went to the parade.

Myself. Myself is a reflexive or intensive pronoun. Reflexive: I cut myself. Intensive: I will drive you myself. Do not use myself in place of I or me. He gave the flowers to Melinda and me (not myself).

Nauseated, nauseous. Nauseated means "suffering from nausea." Nauseous means "causing nausea." I feel nauseated (not nauseous).

Nowheres. Nowheres is nonstandard for nowhere.

Of. Use the verb have, not the preposition of, after the verbs could, should would, may, might, and must. They must have (not of) left early.

Off of. Off is sufficient. Omit of: The ball rolled off (not off of) the table.

OK. O.K., okay. All three spellings are acceptable, but in formal speech and writing avoid these colloquial expressions for consent or approval.

Parameters. Parameter is a mathematical term that has become jargon for "fixed limit," "boundary," or "guideline." Use ordinary English instead. The task force was asked to work within certain guidelines (not parameters).

Percent, per cent, percentage. Percent (also spelled per cent) is always with a specific number. Percentage is used with a descriptive term such large or small, not with a specific number. The candidate won 80 percent of the primary vote. Only a small percentage of registered voters turned out for the election.

Phenomena. Phenomena is the plural of phenomenon, which means "an observable occurrence of ract." Strange phenomena occur at all hours of the night in that house, but last night's phenomenon was the strangest of all.

Plus. Plus should not be used to join indenpendent clauses. his raincoat is dirty; moreover (not plus) it has a hole in it.

Precede, proceed, proceeds. Precede means "to come before." Proceed means "to go forward." As we proceed up the mountain, we noticed flesh tracks in the mud, evidence that a group of hikers had preceded us. Proceeds means "a definite amount of cash paid or received."

Principal, principle. Principal is a noun meaning "the head of a school or organization" or "a sum of money." It is also an adjective meaning "most important." Principle is a noun meaning "a basic truth or law." The principal expelled her for three principal reasons. We believe in the principle of equal justice for all.

Quote, quotation. Quote is a verb; quotation is a noun. Avoid using quote a shortened form of quotation. Her quotations (not quotes) from Shakespeare intrigued us.

Raise, rise. Raise is a transitive verb meaning "to move or cause to move upward." It takes a direct object. I raised the shades. Rise is an intransitive verb meaning "to go up." It does not take a direct object. Heat rises.

Real, really. Real is an adjective; really is an adverb. Real is sometimes used informally as an adverb, but avoidi this use in formal writing. She was really (not real) angry.

Reason is because. Use that instead of because. The reason I'm late is that (not because) my car broke down.

Reason why. The expression reason why is redundant. The reason (not the reason why) Jones lost the election is clear.

Relation, relationship. Relation describes a connection between things. Relationship describes a connection between people. There is a relation between poverty and infant mortality. Our business relationship has cooled over the years.

Respectfully, respectively. Respectfully means "showing or marked by respect." Respectively means "each in the order given." He respectfully submitted his opinion to the judge. John, Tom, and Larry were a butcher, a baker, and a lawyer, respectively.

Sensual, sensuous. Sensual means "gratifying the physical senses," especially those associated with sexual pleasure. Sensuous means "pleasing to the senses," especially those involved in the experience of art, music, and nature. The sensuous music and balmy air led the dancers to more sensual movements.

Set, sit. Set is a transitive verb meaning "to put" or "to place." Its principal parts are set, set, set. Sit is an intransitive verb meaning "to be seated." Its principal parts are sit, sat, sat. She set the dough in a warm corner of the kitchen. The cat sat in the warmest part of the room.

Shall, will. Shall was once used as the helping verb with I or we: I shall, we shall, you will, he/she/it will, they will. Today, however, will is generally accepted even when the subject is I or we. The word shall occurs primarily in polite questions (Shall I find you a pillow?) and in legalistic sentences suggesting duty or obligations (The applicants shall file form 1080 by December 31).

Should of. Should of is nonstandard for should have. They should have (not should) been home an hour ago.

Since. Do not use since to mean because if there is a chance of ambiguity. Since we won the game, we have been celebrating with a pitcher of beer. Since here could mean "because" or "from the time that."

Somebody, someone. Somebody and someone are singular.

Something. Something is singular.

Sometime, some time, sometimes. Sometime is an adverb meaning "at an indefinite or unstated time." Some time is the adjective some modifying the noun time and is spelled as two words to mean "a period of time." Sometimes is an adverb meaning "at time, now and then." I'll see you sometime soon. I haven't lived there for some time. Sometimes I run into him at the library.

Sure and. Sure and is nonstandard for sure to. We are all taught o be sure to (not and) look both both ways before crossing a street.

Than, then. Than is a conjunction used in comparison; then is an adverb denoting time. That pizza is more than I can east. Tom laughed, and then we recognized him.

That, which. Many writers reserved that for restrictive clauses, which for nonrestrictive clauses.

Theirselves. Theirselves is nontandard for themselves. The two people were able to push the Volkswagen out of the way themselves (not theirselves).

There, their, they're. There is an adverb specifying place; it is also an expletive. Adverb: Sylvia is lying there unconscious. Expletive: There are two plums left. Their is a possessive pronoun; Fred and Jane finally washed their car. They're is a contraction of they are: They're later than usual today.

To, too, two. To is a preposition; too is an adverb; two is a number. Too many of your shots slice to the left, but the last two were right on the mark.

Toward, towards. Toward and towards are generally interchangeable, although toward is preferred.

Try and. Try and is nonstandard for try to. The teachers asked us all to try to (not and) write original haiku.

Unique. Avoid expressions such as most unique, more straight, less perfect, very round. Something either is unique or ins't. It is illogical to suggest degrees of uniqueness.

Usage. The noun usage should not be substituted for use when the meaning intended is "employment of." The use (not usage) of computers dreamatically increased the company profits.

Use to, suppose to. Use to and suppose to are nonstandard. Write used to and supposed to instead.

Utilize. Utilize means "to make use of." It often sounds pretentious; in most cases, use is all sufficient. I used (not utilized) the best workers to get the job done fast.

Wait for, wait on. Wait for mean "to be in readiness for" or "await." Wait on means "to serve." We're only wating for (not waiting on) Ruth to take us to the game.

Ways. Ways is colloquial when used to mean "distance." The city is a long way (not ways) from here.

Where. Do not use where in place of that. I heard that (not where) the crime rate is increasing.

Which. See that, which and who, which, that.

While. Avoid using while to mean "although" or "whereas" if there is any chance of ambiguity. Although (not While) Gloria lost money in the slot machine, Tom won it at roulette. Here while could mean either "although" or "at the same time that."

Who, which, that. Do not use which to refer to persons. Use who instead. That, though generally used to refer to things, may be use to refer to a group or class of people. Fans wondered how an old man who (not that or which) walked with a limp could play football. The team that socres the most poins in this game will win the tournament.

Who, whom. Who is used for subjects and subject complement; whom is used for objects.

Who's, Whose. Who's is a contraction of who is; whose is a possessive pronoun. Who's ready for more popcorn? Whose coat is this?

Will. See shall

Would of. Would of is nonstandard for would have. She would have (not would of) had a chance if she had arrived on time.

You. In formal writing, avoid you in an indefinite sense meaning "anyone." Any spectator (not You) could tell by the way John caught the ball his throw would be too late.

Your, you're. Your is a possessive pronoun; you're is a contraction of you are. Is that your new motorcycle? You're on the list of finalists.

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