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Editing Tip: Alternative Words for 'Main' or 'Mainly'


  • ‘Main’ and ‘mainly’ are commonly confused words in English, although they should be used differently
  • ‘Main’ describes something that is principal, while ‘mainly’ equates more to ‘for the most part’
  • Several synonyms for each term can be used to add variety to a manuscript

In this tip, we will take a closer look at two words that are commonly found in academic writing, main and mainly. Each word is appropriate for use in formal writing, but they may not be the most specific terms in every setting. In addition, because of their frequent use, it is helpful to have some synonyms on hand.

Definitions defines these words as follows:

  • Main: chief in size, extent, or importance; principal; leading
  • Mainly: chiefly; principally; for the most part; to the greatest extent

Synonyms for ‘main’ and ‘mainly’

In both cases, several other words can be substituted to provide greater diversity or clarity in your text:

  • For main, try principal, chief, critical, crucial, vital, fundamental, basic, particular, essential, necessary, primary, paramount, foremost, predominant, or major
  • For mainly, try above all, chiefly, essentially, generally, most of all, mostly, overall, predominantly, primarily, principally, usually, especially, particularly, exceptionally, substantially, or largely


In the following examples, a pair of synonyms is offered to replace 'main' or 'mainly':

  • Speed is the main advantage of this approach. (consider 'primary' or 'principal')
  • Our success was mainly due to the efforts of the research team. (consider 'chiefly' or 'predominantly')
  • The chart seems to be the main concern, so it is presented below. (consider 'foremost' or 'fundamental')
  • Increased vps transcription mainly promoted biofilm formation. (consider 'substantially' or 'above all')

We hope that this tip has provided some options for your academic writing. If you have a question about a specific sentence using 'main' or 'mainly', please contact us. Best of luck!

Tags Writing a manuscript Language editing Editing tips Word choice Clarity in writing Synonyms

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