Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

You would think that with the proliferation of automatic spell checks on computers that we would get better at grammar and spelling, but it seems like the reverse is closer to the truth. That’s because many errors aren’t picked up by spell checkers. After all, both “there” and “their” are correctly spelled, but you have to use the right word under the right context.

And this becomes increasingly challenging when two words sound very similar, as would be the case with “petals” and “pedals.” Yes, they’re not pronounced exactly the same way, but it’s easy to mishear one for the other in casual speech. When you are writing the words, though, you want to make sure you are using the right one.

Petals are the segments that make up a flower. In a romantic context, someone might spread out a bunch of rose petals on a bed. In a culinary context, the segments that make up a Blooming Onion at Outback Steakhouse are onion petals.

Pedals, on the other hand, are the foot-operated portion of bicycles and other machinery. A bicycle has two pedals, for example, and you spin them in a circular motion to move the bike forward. You might also refer to the gas and brake pedals in a car, as well as the pedals on a piano or sewing machine. To go as fast as possible in a car, you might tell someone to “put the pedal to the metal,” meaning to push the gas (accelerator) pedal as far down as possible.

While “petal” is typically used only as a noun, “pedal” can be both a noun and a verb. Going back to the example of a bicycle, if you’re telling someone to go faster, you might tell them to “pedal harder.”

There are many words in the English language that sound similar and you might mishear. Thus, while the spell check function on a computer is invaluable, you shouldn’t rely solely on it to catch your mistakes. You might use “palette” when you really mean to say “palate,” for instance, and you might accidentally use “pedal” when you mean to say “petal.”

If you’re ever unsure about the spelling, look it up. There are many free dictionaries on the Internet that can help you out.