The Grammarphobia Blog

Predominately speaking

Q: I’m so tired of reading books that say something is “predominately” (followed by an adjective), when they mean “predominantly.” The writers seem to think “predominant” and “predominate” are synonyms, and both are adjectives that can be made into adverbs. Thank you!

A: We’re sorry to disappoint you, but the adjective “predominate” does indeed mean “predominant,” and the adverb “predominately” means “predominantly.”

The isn’t a new thing, either. The two adjectives and the two adverbs have had these meanings for hundreds of years, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

So why do we have this pair of similar-looking adverbs with the same meaning? Because English got one from Latin and the other from French, and kept them both.

The OED defines “predominantly” as “in a predominant manner; to a predominant degree; (in later use) esp. primarily, largely, chiefly, for the most part.”

The dictionary defines “predominately” with an equal sign and the word “predominantly.” In other words, the meanings of the two adverbs are identical.

In fact, “predominately” is the older of the adverbs; it first showed up in English in the late 1500s.

The OED’s earliest citation (spelled “predominatly”) is from The Examination of Mens Wits (1594), Richard Carew’s English translation of a treatise on physiology and psychology by the Spanish physician Juan Huarte:

“Likewise the womb in a woman cannot be predominatly hot.” (Carew was translating the Spanish a predominio.)

Oxford says “predominately” is derived from the adjective “predominate,” which showed up in English three years before the adverb.

The source of the adjective “predominate” (defined by the OED as “= predominant”) is the post-classical Latin praedominatus, which is the past participle of praedominari (to rule before).

The adverb “predominantly” appeared in the early 1600s. The first OED citation is from A Comparative Discourse of the Bodies Natural and Politique (1606), a defense of monarchism by the English writer Edward Forset:

“Where any affection predominantly reigneth, it draweth thither such humors of the bodie, as are likest and best consorteth to it selfe.” (We’ve gone to the original to expand the citation.)

The adverb is derived from the adjective “predominant” (1575), which comes directly from the Middle French predominant.

The OED defines the adjective as “having ascendancy, supremacy, or prevailing influence over others; superior, predominating.”

If you still have doubts, we should mention that we’ve found four standard dictionaries in the US and the UK with definitions of “predominately,” and all of them define it as “predominantly.”

In other words, lexicographers predominantly (or predominately) feel that the two adverbs mean the same thing.

A final note: we ran a post on the blog a couple of years ago on a related subject, the use of “predominantly” instead of “mainly” in business-speak.

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