Q From Vince Marino: The following sentence appeared in a newspaper article: ‘Many white parents said they did not want to send their children to poor-performing, predominately black, inner-city schools’. Is predominately used correctly or should it be predominantly? And why?
A There’s been a lot of scholarly argument about the relative merits of these two words in the last century or so, most of it directed at the associated adjectives, predominate and predominant.
Bryan Garner, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, says that predominate is a needless variant of predominant; good usage requires predominate to be used only as a verb and predominant only as an adjective. At least one earlier usage writer has gone so far as to condemn the adjectival use predominate as illiterate.
History is against the critics. Predominate has been recorded as an adjective since 1591. It appeared first in a satirical almanac with the title A Wonderfull, Strange and Miraculous, Astrological Prognostication by ‘A. Foulweather’, a pseudonym of the Elizabethan writer Thomas Nashe. Predominant appears slightly earlier, in 1576, in a forgotten work by John Rolland, Ane Treatise Callit the Court of Venus. There’s similarly little difference in dates between the adverbs: predominately is known from 1594 and predominantly from 1606. All these forms have been in constant use ever since.
It’s true that predominantly is much more common than predominately, as predominant is than predominate. However, there is no difference in sense between the pairs and the other forms aren’t wrong, just less often preferred alternatives.