Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More


This word has been driving me crazy. Figuratively speaking, I have been having an argument with my Word program about whether the adjective can act attributively or not. The sentence I had was something like this:

“The chary receptionist refused to permit the man into the offices upstairs.”

To begin, my Word program underlines chary with the green squiggle and states adjective [mis]use. I ran it through another grammar checker and it came back as commonly confused words. After a little research, I found that that word was wary. I consulted several dictionaries:

My Concise Oxford English Dictionary: chary- cautiously or suspiciously reluctant.

The dictionary program on my computer: chary- cautiously or suspiciously reluctant to do something.

Wiktionary: chary- Cautious; wary; shy

The first two dictionaries, specifically my computer’s, noted the phrase “chary of”. I then proceeded to see if there was an entry in my Webster’s Usage Dictionary. Luckily it was there, but all that it revealed to me was chary being molded into “chary+preposition”. Receiving no help, I tracked down another site that stated that the difference between wary and chary is “very slight”. However, I returned and checked wiktionary’s quotes and found two of Shakespeare using it in the way that I did but with the word’s superlative form:

“The chariest maid is prodigal enough

If she unmasks her beauty to the moon.”

My first more germane question is are chary and wary interchangeable? Or does chary simple live in the restricted phrase “chary + preposition”. This leads to my second question. Do certain adjectives only live within certain, restricted phrases?

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There are certainly some restrictions on adjective position. Some adjectives, like "elder, live (in the sense of living)" are only used attributively (before the noun), while others are only used predicatively (after a linking verb such as "be, seem, become" - for example "alive, awake". But you seem to have found an oddity with "chary".

I think the entry you quote from The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage more or less says it all - "often followed by 'of' and somewhat less often by 'about' ... may occasionally be found with 'as to, in' or 'with' " - although it doesn't specifically say you can't use it attributively. I can't find anything about it in Fowler (1st or 3rd editions).

Oxford Advance Learner's Dictionary lists it as synonymous with "wary" and gives the usage "chary of something/of doing something"

Longman's says it is especially used in British English, giving the usage - "chary about/of doing something" - and the example sentence -"Banks were chary of lending the company more money."

Cambridge gives the example - "I'm a bit chary of using a travel agency that doesn't have official registration."

Some online collocation corpus-based tools might help:

Netspeak based on BNC (British National Corpus) - "chary of" - 41.6%, followed by a comma or full stop (i.e. predicative) - 25.4%, followed by "about" - 3%

Just the Word (BNC) finds only examples with "of"

Fraze-it has plenty of examples from both British and American publications - the vast majority with "of", a few with "about",and only one that I can see being used attributively (from The Atlantic) - "Other myths circulating among my chary middle-class cohort turned out to be false." There's a link at Fraze-it.

Google site searches for The Economist, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times and The Independent bring up predominantly examples with "of"

But the Guardian does have at least one example of it being used attributively - "Why is it that, despite America's increasingly chary approach to visitors, I feel more at home in Chelsea, Manhattan than I ever do in Chelsea, London"

As does the Independent - "Regulation-chary Chancellor George Osborne, desperate for international businesses to set up shop in Britain, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a shopping-mall owner trying to flog off vacant lots.".

In its column on "Errors and Omissions", the Independent has this to say:

"Go carefully: This is from a comment piece on Monday, about Vicky Pryce and how the desire for revenge led her into danger: “Of course she made some dreadful mistakes and should have been more chary, but I recognise her pain because long ago I felt it too.”

“Chary” and “wary”, a pair of words similar in both sound and meaning, cause a great deal of trouble. “Chary” means careful, cautious or sparing in giving something out. “Wary” means habitually on one’s guard. You are chary of something desirable that you have, but wary of something you fear, as Vicky Pryce ought to have been."

But this seems to be very much their own interpretation - I can' t find anything about "giving out" anywhere else. Incidentally, 'chary' seems to be derived from the same Old English word 'cearig' that gives us 'care'.

Warsaw Will Jul-06-2013

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Oh look, a troll.

Jasper Jul-15-2013

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A troll that has an orange traffic light warning from Web of Trust, what's more (it's a games site).

Warsaw Will Jul-15-2013

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Thank you, it's very interesting. I wish you all the best.

memeclip Oct-05-2013

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The attributive use of 'chary' appears to work well. The word chary is less commonly used than wary and may be used to connote a slightly different tone in context with its use.

As an attributive term it is very descriptive; it seems to be more interesting and less cautionary than the more familiar term 'wary'.

Grigori Rho Gharveyn Oct-20-2018

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