A Language Usage Aside: Key Tenets, or Key Tenants?

Okay, a language usage aside: Is it “key tenets”, or “key tenants”?

I’ve always thought the latter was wrong, stemming from people’s mishearing of “key tenets”, but I increasingly see the latter used. I still think it’s wrong — what sense does “key tenants” make, other than when you’re talking about real estate renters? — but I’m happily corrected.


  1. Language Police says:

    You are absolutely correct, “tenet” is the correct word, not “tenant”. Use of “tenant” in this context signals that the writer/speaker is an uneducated person trying to look more sophisticated than he really is. File this with common usage errors like “comprised of” (wrong) instead of “comprises” (right), “tow the line”(wrong) instead of “toe the line”(right), and “jives with” (wrong) instead of “jibes with” (right).
    Pay attention in English class, people!

  2. I don’t know if things like this can be taught in a classroom. They probably come from reading widely, and paying attention while doing so.
    There is much discussion over here about how British people do not learn other languages. To be fair, when some of us can barely spell, use grammatically correct constructions, or distinguish between ‘their’ and ‘there’, other languages are a bit far-fetched.
    For those pedantically-minded, http://www.languagelog.com provides essential daily relief!
    PS: it is key tenet; key tenants would be those without whom being a landlord would not earn one much money!

  3. It is not a grammar aside. It is a usage aside. Both are grammatically correct.

  4. Good point. Fixed.

  5. See also “doggy-dog world” (for “dog-eat-dog world”), “nip it in the butt” (for “nip it in the bud”), the American school child’s pledge of allegiance to “one nation under god, invisible” and many others. While your example isn’t exactly a Mondegreen, you’ll probably still enjoy reading the Wikipedia article.
    And lest the prescriptive grammarians get too smug about so-called pure language, please remember that we now use “bumblebee” instead of the original “humble bee”, “an adder” instead of the original “a nadder,” and “frost” instead of the original “forst,” all based on similar mishearings in the past.

  6. If I owned a shopping mall with a Nordstrom’s in it, then they would be a key tenant.
    But real estate people would actually call them an anchor tenant.
    One shouldn’t take real estate advice from any agent/principal that used the phrase key tenant since they are fools in multiple ways.
    Long story short, key tenant is still wrong even when it may be technically correct!!!

  7. Brent Buckner says:

    Perhaps people upon hearing key tenents go on to spell it key tenants.
    Yes, tenent does mean tenet.

  8. Anon-Pointer says:

    David Megginson: the correct usage is ‘lest … should get too smug’. So that was a grammatical boo-boo.

  9. Anon-Pointer:
    Even according to the prescriptive grammarians, a simple present subjunctive after “lest” is acceptable for referring to uncertain future action, as in “lest we forget.”

  10. The Internet decade 1996-2006 will be known as the pre-video era when there was a glimmer of hope that grammar, spelling and usage would once again become important.
    Grammar, spelling and usage are less important than communication but they are markers of education, etc.
    I think “loser” spelled with a double “o” is sadly becoming accepted usage, an indication of what losers pedants have become.
    All people are uneducated persons trying to look more sophisticated than they really are. When people become 100% educated the vessel is full and death occurs.