The phrases "on the contrary" and "to the contrary" are used to reply to an opposing point. Your friend tells you she is moving to New York and you express surprise because you thought she hated big cities. She replies, "On the contrary, I've always wanted to live in an urban area."

When a distinction is being made that does not involve opposition of this sort, "in contrast" is appropriate. "In New York, you don't need a car. In Los Angeles, in contrast, you can't really get along without one, though you won't need a snow shovel."

Here's a simple test: if you could possibly substitute "that's wrong" the phrase you want is "on the contrary" or "to the contrary" If not, then use "in contrast."


The confusion between the two categories of words relating to amount and number is so pervasive that those of us who still distinguish between them constitute an endangered species; but if you want to avoid our ire, learn the difference. 

Amount words relate to quantities of things that are measured in bulk; number words to things that can be counted. In the second sentence above, it would have been improper to write "the amount of words" because words are discrete entities which can be counted, or numbered.

Here is a handy chart to distinguish the two categories of words: amount vs. number quantity vs. number little vs. few less vs. fewer much vs. many.

You can eat fewer cookies, but you drink less milk. If you eat too many cookies, people will probably think you've had too much dessert. If the thing being measured is being considered in countable units, then use number words. Even a substance which is considered in bulk can also be measured by number of units. For instance, you shouldn't drink too much coffee, but you should also avoid drinking too many cups of coffee.  Note that here you are counting cups. They can be numbered.

The most common mistake of this kind is to refer to an "amount" of people instead of a "number" of people.

Just to confuse things, "more" can be used either way: you can eat more cookies and drink more milk. Exceptions to the less/fewer pattern are references to units of time and money, which are usually treated as amounts: less than an hour, less than five dollars. Only when you are referring to specific coins or bills would you use fewer: "I have fewer than five state quarters to go to make my collection complete."


When bullet first appeared in print in English, it described a cannonball of metal or stone. The cannons in use back then often had a tapered barrel, because cannonballs varied in size. You simply shoved the ball down the barrel until it got stuck, then you lit the fuse. If the barrel was made of wood, as they sometimes were, and the ball was really wedged in tightly, the back of the cannon would sometime exploded in one’s face. A few years after 1557 the word bullet was being used the way it is today, to describe a small ball of lead fired from a pistol or other gun of small calibre.

Bullet comes from the French boulette, meaning “little ball,” and ballot comes from the Italian ballota, also meaning “little ball.” A bullet looks like a ball, but a ballot is simply a sheet of paper we mark on election day. It comes from the Italian word for “little ball” because balls have often been used in elections.

The ancient Greeks voted by dropping a white stone ball into a container when they favoured a candidate and a black stone ball when they didn’t. Even today we speak of someone being blackballed from a club.