Dam or Damn: A Grammar Lesson

Say that you see your biggest nemesis from high school in Walmart one day. Still no nicer then the last time you saw her. She looks a bit old, tired, and you realize why when you see her 5 kids screaming and running in five different aisles. Karmic justice? Maybe – but all you can manage to say to yourself in the moment is: Dam or Damn glad it isn’t me!

That leads me to today’s grammar lesson…one word is something that beavers build to slow the flow of the river and the other is something you say well when you are making an inappropriate exclamation! Let’s figure out which is which, so you can be sure to use the correct spelling in your writing.

dam 2 |dam| |døm| |dam|nouna barrier, typically of concrete, constructed to hold back water and raise its level, the resulting reservoir being used in the generation ofelectricity or as a water supply.a barrier of branches in a stream, constructed by a beaver to provide a deep pool and a lodge.any barrier resembling a dam.a rubber sheet used to keep saliva from the teeth during dental operations.verb ( dammed |dømd|damming |døm??|) [ trans. ]build a dam across (a river or lake).hold back or obstruct (something) : the closed lock gates dammed up the canal.ORIGIN Middle English : from Middle Low German or Middle Dutch; related to Dutch dam and German Damm, also to Old Englishfordemman [close up.]

dam 3 |døm| |dam|nounthe female parent of an animal, esp. a domestic mammal.ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting a human mother): alteration of dame .


damn |dam|verb [ trans. ](in Christian belief) (of God) condemn (a person) to suffer eternal punishment in hell : be forever damned with Lucifer.( be damned) be doomed to misfortune or failure : the enterprise was damned.condemn, esp. by the public expression of disapproval : intellectuals whom he damns as rigid doctrinaire idealists.curse (someone or something) : she cleared her throat, damning it for its huskiness | damn him for making this sound trivial.exclamation informalexpressing anger, surprise, or frustration : Damn! I completely forgot!adjective [ attrib. ] informalused for emphasis, esp. to express anger or frustration : turn that damn thing off! | [as submodifier ] don’t be so damn silly!PHRASES—— be damned used to express rejection of someone or something previously mentioned : “Glory be damned!”damn all Brit., informal nothing at all.damn well informal used to emphasize a statement, esp. when the speaker is angry : this is your mess and you can damn well clear it up!damn someone/something with faint praise praise someone or something so unenthusiastically as to imply condemnation.I’ll be (or I’m) damned if informal used to express a strong negative : I’ll be damned if I’ll call her.not be worth a damn informal have no value or validity at all.not give a damn see give .well I’ll be (or I’m) damned informal used as an expression of surprise.

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*source: Apple Dictionary


  1. Harveydaniell says

    “Dam” is correct if you're using phrases such as “I couldn't give a dam.” A “dam” is an Indian coin of very little value. Although, ever since it's infamous misuse in Gone With the Wind (“Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn”), “damn” has entered common usage (particularly in the USA).

  2. says

    I enjoyed your explanation of Dam or Damn, but this led to another question. You wrote, “Still no nicer then the last time you saw her.” You have used the word then, when I think it should have been than. So is it then or than? Sounds like it’s time for another article.
    Michael Leavitt – Master Inspector

  3. Peter Hyperborrean says

    Friend of mine said dam when we were texting instead of damn. That gave me a laugh because I got the problem of spelling dam as damn! Guess him and I are opposites… :)
    Thanks for helping me make this “grammatically” funny.


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