Below: Time to Change the Grammar Texts?

English Plus+ News, November 1999

Para- or Peri- : Similar Sound, Different Meaning

What is the Difference Between Perimeter and Parameter?

Writers in English often get words spelled incorrectly because the vowels in English often do not get an accent so that it is hard to tell the difference in everyday speech. This is notably the case in words that have the roots or prefixes of peri- and -para-.

Peri- is a Greek prefix. That means that it will normally be associated with roots from the Greek language. (There may be some exceptions, but that will be the rule). It means "around" or "about." For example, the word perimeter literally means "measurement around." And that pretty well describes what a perimeter is. This may occasionally be confused with the Latin prefix per-. Per- means "completely" or "by, by means of, through." For example, perfect literally means "completely made or done." Percent means "by the hundred." However, there is not any common word in English that has this prefix with a root that begins with i, so there should be no confusion with peri-.

Para- can be a Greek root or a prefix and literally means "alongside, beside." It usually suggests something similar but not identical or something that aids or accompanies something else. The Latin root -para- is less common in English and means "beyond."

For example, parachute literally means "alongside a fall" or "with a fall," in the sense that a parachute accompanies someone falling. It probably takes little to understand the origins of paramilitary or parallel.

Even the word paragraph literally means "written alongside," because the paragraph mark or indentation is noted along the margin of the page. We can also understand the distinction between perimeter and parameter, which sound very similar and whose root is the same.

We see the less common Latin meaning for para- in paranormal, which means "beyond the normal."

With these things in mind there are two words which sound the same but have two different spellings and meanings. One is periphrase and the other is paraphrase. Now I will tell you that the adjective form of periphrase is far more common than the noun--periphrastic. Paraphrase is commonly used in the form written here where it can be a noun or a verb. They are two different words. Can you figure out what they mean?

(Answer next month)

Another root or prefix, -pari- is not as common. It is Latin in origin and is related to the word par. It means "equal," as in the word parity.

There are also two roots which can have the same or similar spelling as these prefixes. Both come from Latin. The root -par + a vowel (-para- , -pare-, -paro-) means "make ready, prepare." Knowing this helps us spell words like preparation and separate. The root -per- + a vowel (usually "i" in English) means "go by means of" or "go completely" and is the root for perish. This is uncommon except in words related to the word perish."

But this also helps us understand the difference between the words perish and parish. The ultimate root for parish is Greek and means "alongside or beside the home." I guess the ancient Greeks believed that it takes a village to raise a child...

That also helps us understand that in virtually all cases the proper name is spelled Parish or Parrish because last names are often associated with where people lived. The fact that most of anyone's ancestors have died is hardly unique...

To help you recall the difference between correctly spelled words like parish and perish, distinctions usually overlooked by spelling checkers, check out Grammar Slammer Deluxe by English Plus.

Let's Correct the Textbooks

Time to Change the Grammar Texts?

This is the fourth of a series of guest editorials by retired English teacher Donald Hibbard.. English grammar terminology comes largely from Latin, and over the centuries there have been problems trying to fit English to a Latin mold. He may help us re-think some of the things we have learned--even some of the things in Grammar Slammer!

The first installment included some propositions that we have examined already. Here is a slightly more technical idea that should have us thinking exactly what does the term subordinate clause mean?


Before students are introduced to subordinate clauses, they should be made to understand the meaning of the word subordinate. Do not stop with merely explaining the meaning of the morphemes sub and ordinate, but demonstrate it.

Consider two items such as a shirt and one of its buttons. Ask, "Which is of lower rank?" Do the same with a chair and one of its legs. Do this with a number of items until the students fully grasp that a part is subordinate to the whole.

This, of course, is why a subordinate clause is one that is part of another structure. Words and phrases are all subordinate. The reason that the word subordinateis used only in conjunction with clauses is that some clauses are not subordinate. Those are independent clauses.

Every simple sentence is one independent clause. Every complex sentence is one independent clause containing one or more subordinate clauses. Every compound sentence is made up of at least two independent clauses.

Here are some complex sentences with subordinate clauses identified by brackets [] and phrases identified by parentheses ().

He was sorry(for [what he had said(to his mother)[when she had tried(to help him.)]])

[That he had wanted(to do it himself)]was no reason(for (his having acted(in the way[he did.])))

Demonstrations like this should teach students how our language is most often made up of structures within structures.

Critics uninterested in grammar will inevitably say, "What difference does it make?" To them it may make no difference, but why teach students what is not correct and have them go through life convinced that grammar makes no difference as long as they can be understood? Why not teach them what is correct and give them the tools by which they can not only make themselves understood but also do it with confidence that what they are writing is well punctuated and clear standard English.

News from English Plus+

Need a little refresher on what the various types of clauses are or what the differences are among simple, compound, and complex sentences?

Take a look at Grammar Slammer, the easy pop-up English grammar reference from English Plus. Grammar Slammer includes a thorough glossary with all these terms and more. Most definitions include illustrations to make them better understood; many also include references or "links" to other parts of the reference program.

Consider also Grammar Slammer Deluxe which includes both Grammar Slammer and Spelling Slammer, a pop-up reference for English spelling. This includes spelling rules and over a thousand words that spell checkers often overlook.

Download a trial copy from This download site includes trial copies of Grammar Slammer that can be loaded into various word processors as well as "legacy" Windows 3.x format.

Last year we were not able to run a December issue. That gets to be a busy time of the year. If not, then we at English Plus+ wish you and yours all the best for the year 2000.

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