I am trying to find a verb which can be used to indicate that someone is acting pedantic.

I first considered "pedanticise", but, having found only one source for this, I thought I'd broach the question here.

Edit: To clarify, I am defining pedantic to mean:

excessively concerned with minor details or rules; overscrupulous. -- Google


overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching. -- Dictionary.com

An example of this word used in a sentence would be, "Because Ellie spent the whole day ____ing over the grammar choices in her emails, she didn't get any work done!"

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    Can you give a sample sentence with a blank where the word would be? It would help to have some context. – chasly from UK Jul 16 '15 at 22:30
  • Ah, to nitpick. – Vladimir Kornea Jul 16 '15 at 22:36
  • The full OED has pedantize - to act as a pedant (formerly also, schoolmaster); to speak or write pedantically. But they do include the caveat now rare. Whatever - here are a couple of dozen written instances of the past tense verb form. – FumbleFingers Jul 16 '15 at 22:44
  • @chaslyfromUK For example, "Because Ellie spent the whole day ____ing over the grammar choices in her emails, she didn't get any work done!". The suggestions thus far have been really good, especially Jacobm001's contribution of "quibble" -- but I'd still appreciate any more ideas! – C. Davison Jul 16 '15 at 23:05
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    @HotLicks I'd save preach for holier-than-thou types and just use lecture for a mere pedant in those contexts. As for the main question, these are not exactly verbs for pedantic, hence why I'm not answering the question but the more figurative meanings of mull or ruminate fit better in this more introspective context, especially since you're already using the word over. – Tonepoet Jul 17 '15 at 1:04

You could say that person was quibbling. It generally indicates that the person is using semantics to ignore the point of an argument. If they're just trying to be obnoxious, I would usually say they were nitpicking.

  • I will add my support to "quibble". It has the connotations of picking over detail, of standing on the irrelevant niceties of the matter, of seeking by mere sophistry to impede an otherwise well-founded argument. – Anton Jul 16 '15 at 23:20
  • I worry that perhaps "quibbling" too strongly implies an argument, which I don't believe to be necessary for pedantry. Nitpick, however, I find to fit just perfectly. Thanks! – C. Davison Jul 17 '15 at 0:02
  • Quibbling refers to arguing over a minor part of a whole, nothing 'exact' about it, so it's not a good substitute for pedantic. You might quibble about the price, or the color, but not the whole deal of buying a car for instance. Being pedantic is being pointlessly exact about (more likely) all aspects of the object. Nitpicking is a good substitute though - it has the implication of focussing on all aspects. – Pete855217 Aug 9 '16 at 10:15

It kind of matters which meaning of pedantic you mean. If you mean someone who shows

narrow, often ostentatious concern for academic knowledge and formal rules

Then nit-pick, as @vladkornea suggested, is good. Hair-split is also good.

But if you are thinking of someone

pompous or schoolmasterly

You might like pontificate:

to speak or behave in a pompous or dogmatic manner. Also (less commonly): pontify

It has a nice, 4-syllable sound and is somewhat pompous in itself.

  • I agree - That's why I asked the OP for some context. We need to see how the verb is intended to be used. – chasly from UK Jul 16 '15 at 23:04
  • In AmEng, I've never heard of "hair-split". Over here, we say "splitting hairs". – kayleeFrye_onDeck Jul 16 '15 at 23:26
  • @kayleeFrye_onDeck - You're splitting hairs. You're hair-splitting. Though the first is more common, splitting is the verb. In the second, the verb is modified. The OP asked for a verb; I'm just doing as I was asked. And, yes, I've heard both. – anongoodnurse Jul 16 '15 at 23:32
  • I understand. My main point was that I've never heard "You're hair-splitting," in any context, before today. Is that a BrEng thing? – kayleeFrye_onDeck Jul 16 '15 at 23:33

"Because Ellie spent the whole day ____ing over the grammar choices in her emails, she didn't get any work done!".




  • Thanks for the suggestions! I fear, however, that they don't sufficiently illustrate the unimportance of the details being obsessed over. If there are any more that come to mind, would love to hear! – C. Davison Jul 16 '15 at 23:31
  • There is one floating around in the back of my mind. Maybe it will come to me. – chasly from UK Jul 16 '15 at 23:49

Critique via OED

"verb: Evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way:

the authors critique the methods and practices used in the research"

Would you consider this an acceptable verb? It doesn't focus on pedantry, so much as implies pedantry is/will be involved.

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    Thanks! Unfortunately, I don't think "critique" sufficiently illustrates the unimportance/minuteness of the details being critiqued (much like Chasly's suggestions). – C. Davison Jul 16 '15 at 23:42
  • Understood! :-) – kayleeFrye_onDeck Jul 17 '15 at 1:07

"Overthink" (AmE slang) sounds like it applies to this, in speaking. But it wouldn't suit for literature, and isn't widely accepted in BritE.

"Worry over" (transitive verb form) may fit.

Akin to "worry over" would be several others, such as "fret over". But these lack the implication of perfectionism (feigned or real) that is characteristic of pedantry.

I think another implication of "pedantry" is that it affects other people, as in the caricature of pedantry in bureaucracy. If someone is being pedantic, they are observed while doing so, and hindering someone's progress while appearing to help.

A pedant is like a tree falling in the woods. If there's no one around, it may as well not be making a sound.

So, "pedantic" is different from "punctilious", "meticulous" and "fastidious", which all share the notion of attention to detail, but lack the pejorative implication.

Given the lack of verbs relating to these, I'd recommend "to perfect", though it lacks the implication (by itself) that such attention is excessive; it requires context (such as that which you provided in the clause "... she didn't get any work done!") to accomplish this.

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