Last week I gave you fifteen commonly misused words—here’s the second part of that list. I’m sure that I’ve missed some words that bother you, but these are the ones that I’ve come across most often during editing, and also gleaned from suggestions that I was given on my editing Facebook page (Superior Editing Services).
1. assure/ensure – To assure
is to give a person confidence. To ensure
is to make certain that something will happen. I assure you that I did not eat the last cookie—but you might want to know that adding a pinch of salt to the dough will ensure that your cookies are tastier.
2. emigrate/immigrate – You emigrate FROM someplace. You immigrate TO someplace.
3. affect/effect – This one is harder, because although affect
is usually a verb and effect
is usually a noun, each can be the other part of speech in less common contexts. Here are some sentences for you:
Most common usages:My granddaughter’s whining and pouting do not affect
(v.) me, but a good night’s sleep has a marvelous effect
(n.) on my disposition.
(One way to remember this: affect
starts with ‘a’ and so does action
, so affect
is a verb.)
Less common usages:The dementia patient had a flattened affect
(n. meaning ‘personality’).If we work hard, we can effect
(v. meaning ‘bring about’) change in this community
4. less/fewer – Use less
when you are writing about something that is not specifically numbered. Joey got less soup than Sam.
when you are writing about something that is specifically numbered. Joey got fewer apples than Sam.
(So those express lanes signs that say “12 items or less” are wrong.)
5. irregardless – It’s simply not a word. Don’t use it. Use regardless
6. except/accept – These words have meanings that aren’t at all similar; they’re confused because they are pronounced almost identically. Accept
is always a verb, with several meanings along the lines of ‘agree, receive.’ Except
is almost never a verb, and it means ‘but, apart from.’ Sample sentences: I cannot accept your ridiculous excuses. You have done everything except the one thing I asked you to do.
(You can do the same trick as in #3 to remember: accept = action, because both begin with ‘a.’)
7. lose/loose and breath/breathe and cloth/clothe and bath/bathe and choose/chose – My Facebook readers suggested some of these pairs, and there are many, many words like this—related words with only one different letter that changes the meaning. My advice to you, if you’re unsure of words like this, is to have a second or third pair of eyes read your MS, or to keep a list of them near where you write. I could give sentences for each pair, but unfortunately I’d just be scratching the surface.
8. lightning/lightening – lightning
accompanies thunder. Lightening
is that thing that happens just before childbirth when the baby shifts into birth position, or it can mean ‘the process of making lighter.’
9. lie/lay (and their related forms) – I freely admit that I still have to look these up at times. Here’s a site that has a handy chart; you might want to print it out and keep it near your computer. http://data.grammarbook.com/blog/definitions/no-lielay/
10. between/among – Use between
when you are writing about a specific number of choices. Use among
when you are writing about an unnumbered group. I had to choose between cake, pie, or donuts from the dessert bar. I walked among the guests, looking for the person who had stolen my cookies.
11. invite/invitation and electric/electricity – When I hear these misused, I suspect that the ‘wrong’ usages are regionalisms, and are probably correct in informal usage in certain parts of the country. Nevertheless, try to avoid constructions like this: I got an invite to the royal wedding
(you got an invitation). The electric went out during the thunderstorm
(it was the electricity).
12. a part/ apart – The space between ‘a’ and ‘part’ gives the phrase a totally different meaning from the single word apart. If I say This is a great church to be a part of
, then I really love that congregation. If I say This is a great church to be apart of
, then I am sarcastically expressing a wish to separate myself from that congregation. Apart
means ‘separate from.’ A part
means ‘a piece or segment.’
13. every day/everyday – If something is an every day
(adj. + noun) occurrence, then it happens each day. If something is an everyday
(adj.) occurrence, then it is ordinary. I wear my jeweled tiara every day, but I wear my everyday jeans when I don’t want to seem pretentious.
14. tithe – this word means ‘a tenth of something,’ or as a verb, ‘to give a tenth.’ I’ve heard people say, I tithe ten percent of my income
. This is redundant; they could just say I give a tithe of my income.
Stranger still is when I hear the word as if it means something like ‘offering.’ I give a tithe of ten dollars every Sunday. I would tithe twenty percent, if I could.
15. unique – If something is unique
, it is the only one of its kind. Unique
does not mean ‘creative’ or ‘interesting’ or even ‘unusual.’ You should not say (although I see and hear it all the time) that something is very unique
or extremely unique
. Correct usages: Every person’s fingerprints are unique. There is a unique solution to the equation 2x + 7 = 9.
Last week I asked if any of these surprised you, or if you have any questions about them, or if you’d like to add to the list. I’ll repeat that this week, and add this: I’ve got a list of topics for these classes, but I welcome your ideas, too. My list only has about a dozen items on it, and I’d really like to know what writing questions you have. Otherwise, I’ll run out of topics for lessons in the next few months.