Still confused? Other niggling questions about English? Contact us.
Buy further English grammar and spelling tips
Future Perfect sells notes, as Adobe PDF documents, which clearly explain common writing issues and their solutions. These are low-cost learning tools which can be purchased individually, in groups or as the whole collection.
English grammar and communications hints and tips
Is it flammable or inflammable?
It is true that ‘flammable’ and ‘inflammable’ have the same meaning of ‘highly combustible’.
In English grammar, we frequently use the prefix ‘in-’ to negate something (‘visible’ becomes ‘invisible’, ‘capacity’ becomes ‘incapacity’). However, it is an intensive here and not an expression of negation.
Because of that widespread use of the prefix in- to negate words, inflammable is open to misinterpretation as if it were a negative word.
Inflammable really means able to be inflamed (inflame+able). Something which cannot be burned is nonflammable.
Since this word is often on warnings which must have absolute clarity at their first reading, the preferred terms for warnings and all technical writing are: ‘flammable/highly flammable’.
In figurative usage, only ‘inflammable’ is used (an inflammable temper).
Remember, whenever you have those niggling queries going around the office (like ‘where to put this apostrophe’, ‘do we use that or which; dispatch or despatch; complimentary or complementary; practise or practice’), do just simply drop us an e-mail or call.
See further English grammar hints and tips