Consider the following:

  1. Imagine that you are sitting at your word processor and you need to make a word bold.

  2. Imagine that you are sitting at your word processor and you need to bold a word.

  3. Imagine that you are sitting at your word processor and you need to embolden a word.

Which is grammatical?

  • 2
    The third is obviously correct. – user16269 Jul 16 '12 at 9:12
  • possible duplicate of Is "bolded" a word? – Matt E. Эллен Jul 16 '12 at 9:23
  • 1
    Not everyone can be expected to know or appreciate such uncommon usage. It is better to rephrase the sentence using 'bold face' or use the word 'bold' with sufficient context around it to make the sense amply clear. I would never use embolden in typographical sense myself, though I had known of it for some time. – Kris Jul 16 '12 at 11:59
  • 1
    I'd say bolden to disambiguate... – Benjol Jul 20 '12 at 11:52

This has been asked before, when I said that embolden was the word to use if the context made it clear it was being used in a typographical sense. Not everyone agreed, and the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t record it in this sense. However, Oxford Dictionaries Pro has as its second definition ‘cause (a piece of text) to appear in a bold typeface’.

  • Thank you, I understand now that the subject is in contention. – dotancohen Jul 16 '12 at 10:40

Why is the third "obviously wrong?" My dictionary (NOAD) finds no fault:

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EDIT: After reading Barrie's answer, I did a little bit more research. Even though the first dictionary I checked (NOAD) had a secondary definition applied to typography, several others did not explicitly mention such a usage.

In cases where a secondary meaning is not listed, however, one might wonder if it needs to be. Some dictionaries define embolden with a definition like to help make more brave; to give courage to. With a definition like that, and no secondary meaning listed, one might certainly question the usage of this verb when applied to typeface. However, in cases where the definition is listed as, quite simply, to make bold, would a secondary definition be required?

Perhaps the most interesting example I found was this online dictionary, which defined the words as

to give courage to; cause to be bold or bolder

and when the sentence examples link is clicked, these example sentences are listed:

  • Emboldened words are the sub category names for reporting the data.
  • Emboldened figures are the percentages, for each house size, of the total number of households assessed.

Thus, no secondary meaning is explicitly listed, however, the usage examples imply that "to cause to be bold" could be applied either to fortitude or to text.

  • Thank you. I had always assumed that embolden referred only to courage. – dotancohen Jul 16 '12 at 10:39

I feel a better option is to use boldface as a verb, meaning “to make bold”.

Embolden would never sound correct because the context is totally different.

  • Actually, boldface to me sounds more like a noun than even bold. – dotancohen May 7 '13 at 11:42

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