Frequently Misused Words

August 9, 2013

Writers write in their own voices, but that doesn’t mean they should write like they talk. Oral communications can be fleeting, but words committed to the page can last for decades, if not centuries. Therefore, it’s important you watch for word usage errors in your writing that you might not watch for in your speaking. Here are some frequently misused words.

Affect/Effect–Affect means to alter. Effect as a noun means impression or result and as a verb means to cause.

Among/Between–Among is used when dealing with more than two. Between is used in connection with two things/people.

Continual/Continuous–Continual refers to action that occurs with pauses. Continuous refers to action that occurs without pauses.

Disinterested/Uninterested–Disinterested means showing no preference or prejudice (impartial). Uninterested means lacking interest (bored).

Eager/Anxious–To be eager is to be enthusiastic. To be anxious is to be worried due to apprehension.

Farther/Further–Farther refers to physical distance. Further refers to extent or degree.

Imply/Infer–To Imply means to throw out a suggestion or hint. To infer means to take a suggestion or hint.

Lay/Lie–Lay means to put or place. Lie means to rest or recline.

Less/Fewer–Less is used when talking about quantity. Fewer is used for things you can count. (My favorite example of misusing these words is the express checkout line in stores that post written signs saying “10 Items or less.” We have one store in our area that does have it correct, however, with signs that read, “10 items or fewer.”)

Stationary/Stationery–With an “a,” stationary means fixed or still. With an “e,” stationery means letter paper.

This list is by no means all inclusive, but it’s a good start to increase your awareness of word usage.

Happy writing!



Words That Are Commonly Confused

March 10, 2011

English is a tough language to master–even when  it’s your original language. The recent Arby’s ad campaign shows how words that are spelled similarly aren’t pronounced the same–Good Mood Food. We also can’t count on simple letters to help us–send some sugar (shouldn’t all words that start with s followed by a vowel have the “SSSSS” sound?).

Here’s a list of commonly confused words that I’ve seen in manuscripts I’ve edited.

  • Accept – Except. Accept is a verb that  means to receive. Except is generally used as a preposition. Examples: I accept your nomination.  Everyone is here except Susan.
  • All ready – already. All ready means everything or everyone  is ready. Already is an adverb modifying an adjective, verb, or another adverb. Examples: We took a poll and discovered we are all ready. He is already ten minutes late.
  • All together – altogether. All together means everyone is co-located. Altogether means completely. Examples: The team was all together at the quarterback’s wedding. You are altogether incorrect in your assumption.
  • Allusion – illusion. Allusion comes from the verb allude and means reference. Illusion means erroneous judgment. Examples: His blatant allusion to her error shows his true feelings about her. She thought she saw his car ahead of her, but it was an illusion.
  • Amount – number. Amount refers to quantity. Number refers to things counted. Examples: The amount of sugar in this cereal is shocking. I noted a number of errors in your calculations.
  • Fewer – less. Fewer is used when things can be counted. Use less for quantity. Examples: The express checkout line is for people buying fifteen items or fewer (note that less is incorrect grammar even if we see it every day in stores). The police report shows less crime than last year at this time.
  • Anxious – eager. Anxious is used when anxiety is involved. Eager is used when something is highly desirable. Examples: I was anxious when I saw my child get hit with the hockey puck. I am eager to start my new job.

This list is long enough for one post, so I’ll continue the list of commonly confused words in my next post.

Happy writing!