Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Here we go again with a couple of words that sound exactly the same but have entirely different meanings. It’s an honest mistake, since only a single letter separates verses from versus. Adding in the fact that neither word is written all that often, plus the much more widespread use of the abbreviation vs. instead, it’s understandable that one would be used in error in place of the other. But you should learn the difference.

Verses is the plural form of the noun verse, with refers to writing that is arranged in what is called a “metrical rhythm.” The “meter” in this sense doesn’t refer to a measure of distance, but rather the rhythm of the line. Shakespare is best known for using iambic pentameter in his plays and sonnets. The rhythmic writing usually appears in the form of poetry and songs. The lines of a verse don’t have to rhyme, but some sort of rhyme scheme (AABB or ABAB, for example) is quite common.

For instance, it’s a little known fact that there are actually four verses to the Canadian national anthem and not just the one we usually sing before sporting events. That being said, in the absolute strictest sense, a verse consists of only a single line and the collection of lines is called a stanza. But that’s another conversation for another day.

Versus, on the other hand, is a preposition that indicates an opposition. It’s when you have one thing and you contrast it against another thing. You’re probably more accustomed to seeing it written simply as vs., as in sports (Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames) or in the recent presidential election (Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump). In a legal context, using “v.” tends to be more common (Roe v. Wade). You can compare almost anything here, like talking about a blog versus a blog post or a minivan versus a station wagon.

If you are comparing two things — where you can use “against,” “in contrast to,” or “compared to” instead — then the word you likely want is versus. If you’re talking about lines of poetry or in a song, you’re probably talking about verses. Try these examples:

  1. The chorus repeats between the _____ of the song.
  2. The main factor in my decision was convenience ____ performance.
  3. We argued over who would win in a fight, Magneto ____ Gandalf, for hours.
  4. What Bible ____ do you find especially encouraging?
  5. I think ____ mode is more fun in this game than co-op mode.

Post your answers in the comment section below!